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Authorized English Translation 
with Introduction by 

A. A. BRILL, Ph.B., M.D. 

Asst. Prof, of Psychiatry, N. Y. Post Graduate Medical 
School; Lecturer in Psychoanalysis and Ab- 
normal Psychology, New York University: 
former Chief of Clinic of Psychiatry, 
Columbia University 





Copyright, 1918, by 
Second Printing, June, 1919 

Lop i o<L 


The essays treated here appeared under the 
subtitle of this book in the first numbers of the 
periodical "Imago" edited by me. They repre- 
sent my first efforts to apply view-points and re- 
sults of psychoanalysis to unexplained problems 
of racial psychology. In method this book con- 
trasts with that of W. Wundt and the works of 
the Zurich Psychoanalytic School. The former 
tries to accomplish the same object through as- 
sumptions and procedures from non-analytic 
psychology, while the latter follow the opposite 
course and strive to settle problems of individual 
psychology by referring to material of racial 
psychology. 1 I am pleased to say that the first 
stimulus for my own works came from these two 

I am fully aware of the shortcomings in these 
essays. I shall not touch upon those which are 
characteristic of first efforts at investigation. 
The others, however, demand a word of explana- 

i Jung: Wandlungen und Symbole der Libido (Transformations 
and Symbols of the Libido) translated by Dr. Beatrice Hinkle 
under the title "The Psychology of the Unconscious," Moffat, 
Yard & Co., and "Principles of Psychoanalysis, Nervous and Men- 
tal Diseases," Monograph Series. 



tion. The four essays which are here collected 
will be of interest to a wide circle of educated peo- 
ple, but they can only be thoroughly understood 
and judged by those who are really acquainted 
with psychoanalysis as such. It is hoped that 
they may serve as a bond between students of 
ethnology, philology, folklore and of the allied 
sciences, and psychoanalysts; they cannot, how- 
ever, supply both groups the entire requisites for 
such cooperation. They will not furnish the 
former with sufficient insight into the new 
psychological technique, nor will the psycho- 
analysts acquire through them an adequate com- 
mand over the material to be elaborated. Both 
groups will have to content themselves with what- 
ever attention they can stimulate here and there 
and with the hope that frequent meetings be- 
tween them will not remain unproductive for sci- 

The two principle themes, totem and taboo, 
which gave the name to this small book are not 
treated alike here. The problem of taboo is pre- 
sented more exhaustively, and the effort to solve 
it is approached with perfect confidence. The 
investigation of totemism may be modestly ex- 
pressed as : "This is all that psychoanalytic study 
can contribute at present to the elucidation of 
the problem of totemism." This difference in 
the treatment of the two subjects is due to the fact 


that taboo still exists in our midst. To be sure, 
it is negatively conceived and directed to different 
contents, but according to its psychological na- 
ture, it is still nothing else than Kant's "Cate- 
gorical Imperative,' ' which tends to act compul- 
sively and rejects all conscious motivations. On 
the other hand, totemism is a religio-social insti- 
tution which is alien to our present feelings ; it has 
long been abandoned and replaced by new forms. 
In the religions, morals, and customs of the 
civilized races of today it has left only slight 
traces, and even among those races where it is 
still retained, it has had to undergo great 
changes. The social and material progress of 
the history of mankind could obviously change 
taboo much less than totemism. 

In this book the attempt is ventured to find the 
original meaning of totemism through its infan- 
tile traces, that is, through the indications in 
which it reappears in the development of our 
own children. The close connection between 
totem and taboo indicates the further paths to the 
hypothesis maintained here. And although this 
hypothesis leads to somewhat improbable con- 
clusions, there is no reason for rejecting the pos- 
sibility that it comes more or less near to the 
reality which is so hard to reconstruct. 


When one reviews the history of psycho- 
analysis * one finds that it had its inception in 
the study of morbid mental states. Beginning 
with the observation of hysteria and the other neu- 
roses 2 Professor Freud gradually extended his 
investigations to normal psychology and evolved 
new concepts and new methods of study. The 
neurotic symptoms were no longer imaginary 
troubles the nature of which one could not grasp, 
but were conceived as mental and emotional mal- 
adjustments to one's environment. The stamp 
of degeneracy impressed upon neurotics by other 
schools of medicine was altogether eradicated. 
Deeper investigation showed conclusively that a 
person might become neurotic if subjected to cer- 
tain environments, and that there was no definite 
dividing line between normal and abnormal. 
The hysterical symptoms, obsessions, doubts, 
phobias, as well as hallucinations of the insane, 
show the same mechanisms as those similar psy- 

i"The History of the Psychoanalytic Movement," translated 
by A. A. Brill. Nervous and Mental Disease Monograph Series. 

2 "Selected Papers on Hysteria and Other Psychoneuroses," 
translated by A. A. Brill. Monograph Series. 



chic structures which one constantly encounters 
in normal persons in the form of mistakes in talk- 
ing, reading, writing, forgetting, 3 dreams and 
wit. The dream, always highly valued by the 
populace, and as much despised by the edu- 
cated classes, has a definite structure and mean- 
ing when subjected to analysis. Professor 
Freud's monumental work, The Interpretation 
of Dreams, 4 marked a new epoch in the history 
of mental science. One might use the same 
words in reference to his profound analysis of 
wit. 5 

Faulty psychic actions, dreams and wit are 
products of the unconscious mental activity, and 
like neurotic or psychotic manifestations repre- 
sent efforts at adjustment to one's environment. 
The slip of the tongue shows that on account of 
unconscious inhibitions the individual concerned 
is unable to express his true thoughts ; the dream 
is a distorted or plain expression of those wishes 
which are prohibited in the waking states, and the 
witticism, owing to its veiled or indirect way of 
expression, enables the individual to obtain 
pleasure from forbidden sources. But whereas 

s "The Psychopathology of Everyday Life," translated by A. 
A. Brill. T. Fisher Unwin, London, and the Macmillan Co., 
N. Y. 

4 Translated by A. A. Brill, George Allen, and Unwin, London, 
and the Macmillan Co., N. Y. 

e "Wit and Its Relations to the Unconscious," translated by 
A. A. Brill. Moffat, Yard and Co., N. Y. 


dreams, witticisms, and faulty actions give evi- 
dences of inner conflicts which the individual 
overcomes, the neurotic or psychotic symptom is 
the result of a failure and represents a morbid 

The aforementioned psychic formations are 
therefore nothing but manifestations of the 
struggle with reality, the constant effort to ad- 
just one's primitive feelings to the demands of 
civilization. In spite of all later development the 
individual retains all his infantile psychic struc- 
tures. Nothing is lost; the infantile wishes and 
primitive impulses can always be demonstrated 
in the grown up and on occasion can be brought 
back to the surface. In his dreams the normal 
person is constantly reviving his childhood, and 
the neurotic or psychotic individual merges back 
into a sort of psychic infantilism through his mor- 
bid productions. The unconscious mental activ- 
ity which is made up of repressed infantile mate- 
rial forever strives to express itself. Whenever 
the individual finds it impossible to dominate the 
difficulties of the world of realitv there is a re- 
gression to the infantile, and psychic disturbances 
ensue which are conceived as peculiar thoughts 
and acts. Thus the civilized adult is the result 
of his childhood or the sum total of his early im- 
pressions; psychoanalysis thus confirms the old 
saying: The child is father to the man. 


It is at this point in the development of psycho- 
analysis that the paths gradually broadened until 
they finally culminated in this work. There 
were many indications that the childhood of the 
individual showed a marked resemblance to the 
primitive history or the childhood of races. The 
knowledge gained from dream analysis and 
phantasies, 6 when applied to the productions of 
racial phantasies, like myths and fairy tales, 
seemed to indicate that the first impulse to form 
myths was due to the same emotional strivings 
which produced dreams, fancies and symptoms. 7 
Further study in this direction has thrown 
much light on our great cultural institutions, 
such as religion, morality, law and philosophy, 
all of which Professor Freud has modestly 
formulated in this volume and thus initiated a 
new epoch in the study of racial psychology. 

I take great pleasure in acknowledging my 
indebtedness to Mr. Alfred B. Kuttner for the 
invaluable assistance he rendered in the transla- 
tion of this work. 

A. A. Brill. 

6 Freud: "Leonardo Da Vinci," translated by A. A. Brill. 
Moffat, Yard and Co., N. Y. 

7 Cf. the works of Abraham, Spielrein, Jung, and Rank. 



I The Savage's Dread of Incest .... 1 

II Taboo and the Ambivalence of Emotions 30 

III Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of 

Thought 124 

IV The Infantile Recurrence of Totemism . 165 




Primitive man is known to us by the stages of 
development through which he has passed: that 
is, through the inanimate monuments and imple- 
ments which he has left behind for us, through 
our knowledge of his art, his religion and his at- 
titude towards life, which we have received either 
directly or through the medium of legends, myths 
and fairy-tales; and through the remnants of his 
ways of thinking that survive in our own manners 
and customs. Moreover, in a certain sense he 
is still our contemporary : there are people whom 
we still consider more closely related to primitive 
man than to ourselves, in whom we therefore 
recognize the direct descendants and representa- 
tives of earlier man. We can thus judge the 
so-called savage and semi-savage races; their 
psychic life assumes a peculiar interest for us, for 
we can recognize in their psychic life a well-pre- 
served, early stage of our own development. 



If this assumption is correct, a comparison of 
the "Psychology of Primitive Races" as taught 
by folklore, with the psychology of the neurotic 
as it has become known through psychoanalysis, 
will reveal numerous points of correspondence 
and throw new light on subjects that are more 
or less familiar to us. 

For outer as well as for inner reasons, I am 
choosing for this comparison those tribes which 
have been described by ethnographists as being 
most backward and wretched: the aborigines of 
the youngest continent, namely Australia, whose 
fauna has also preserved for us so much that is 
archaic and no longer to be found elsewhere. 

The aborigines of Australia are looked upon 
as a peculiar race which shows neither physical 
nor linguistic relationship with its nearest neigh- 
bors, the Melanesian, Polynesian and Malayan 
races. They do not build houses or permanent 
huts; they do not cultivate the soil or keep any 
domestic animals except dogs; and they do not 
even know the art of pottery. They live exclu- 
sively on the flesh of all sorts of animals which 
they kill in the chase, and on the roots which they 
dig. Kings or chieftains are unknown among 
them, and all communal affairs are decided by 
the elders in assembly. It is quite doubtful 
whether they evince any traces of religion in the 
form of worship of higher beings. The tribes 


living in the interior who have to contend with 
the greatest vicissitudes of life owing to a scarcity 
of water, seem in every way more primitive than 
those who live near the coast. 

We surely would not expect that these poor, 
naked cannibals should be moral in their sex life 
according to our ideas, or that they should have 
imposed a high degree of restriction upon their 
sexual impulses. And yet we learn that they 
have considered it their duty to exercise the most 
searching care and the most painful rigor in 
guarding against incestuous sexual relations. 
In fact their whole social organization seems to 
serve this object or to have been brought into re- 
lation with its attainment. 

Among the Australians the system of Totem- 
ism takes the place of all religious and social in- 
stitutions. Australian tribes are divided into 
smaller septs or clans, each taking the name of 
its totem. Now what is a totem? As a rule it is 
an animal, either edible and harmless, or danger- 
ous and feared; more rarely the totem is a plant 
or a force of nature (rain, water), which stands 
in a peculiar relation to the whole clan. The 
totem is first of all the tribal ancestor of the clan, 
as well as its tutelary spirit and protector; it 
sends oracles and, though otherwise dangerous, 
the totem knows and spares its children. The 
members of a totem are therefore under a sacred 


obligation not to kill (destroy) their totem, to 
abstain from eating its meat or from any other 
enjoyment of it. Any violation of these prohibi- 
tions is automatically punished. The character 
of a totem is inherent not only in a single animal 
or a single being but in all the members of the 
species. From time to time festivals are held 
at which the members of a totem represent or 
imitate, in ceremonial dances, the movements and 
characteristics of their totems. 

The totem is hereditary either through the ma- 
ternal or the paternal line; (maternal transmis- 
sion probably always preceded and was only later 
supplanted by the paternal) . The attachment to 
a totem is the foundation of all the social obliga- 
tions of an Australian : it extends on the one hand 
beyond the tribal relationship, and on the other 
hand it supersedes consanguinous relationship. 1 

The totem is not limited to district or to lo- 
cality; the members of a totem may live sepa- 
rated from one another and on friendly terms 
with adherents of other totems. 2 

iFrazer, "Totemism and Exogamy," Vol. I, p. 53. "The 
totem bond is stronger than the bond of blood or family in the 
modern sense." 

2 This very brief extract of the totemic system cannot be left 
without some elucidation and without discussing its limitations. 
The name Totem or Totara was first learned from the North 
American Indians by the Englishman, J. Long, in 1791. The 
subject has gradually acquired great scientific interest and has 
called forth a copious literature. I refer especially to "Totemism 
and Exogamy" by J. G. Frazer, 4 vols., 1910, and the books 


And now, finally, we must consider that pe- 
culiarity of the totemic system which attracts 
the interest of the psychoanalyst. Almost every- 
where the totem prevails there also exists the 

and articles of Andrew Lang ("The Secret of Totem," 1905). 
The credit for having recognized the significance of totemism for 
the ancient history of man belongs to the Scotchman, J. Ferguson 
MacLennan {Fortnightly Review, 1869-70). Exterior to Aus- 
tralia, totemic institutions were found and are still observed 
among North American Indians, as well as among the races of 
the Polynesian Islands group, in East India, and in a large part 
of Africa. Many traces and survivals otherwise hard to interpret 
lead to the conclusion that totemism also once existed among the 
aboriginal Aryan and Semitic races of Europe, so that many in- 
vestigators are inclined to recognize in totemism a necessary phase 
of human development through which every race has passed. 

How then did prehistoric man come to acquire a totem; that 
is, how did he come to make his descent from this or that animal 
foundation of his social duties and, as we shall hear, of his sexual 
restrictions as well? Many different theories have been advanced 
to explain this, a review of which the reader may find in Wundt's 
"Volkerpsychologie" (Vol. II, Mythus und Religion). 

I promise soon to make the problem of totemism a subject of 
special study in which an effort will be made to solve it by apply- 
ing the psychoanalytic method. (Cf. The fourth chapter of this 

Not only is the theory of totemism controversial, but the very 
facts concerning it are hardly to be expressed in such general 
statements as were attempted above. There is hardly an asser- 
tion to which one would not have to add exceptions and contra- 
dictions. But it must not be forgotten that even the most prim- 
itive and conservative races are, in a certain sense, old, and have 
a long period behind them during which whatsoever was aborig- 
inal with them has undergone much development and distortion. 
Thus among those races who still evince it, we find totemism to- 
day in the most manifold states of decay and disintegration; we 
observe that fragments of it have passed over to other social and 
religious institutions; or it may exist in fixed forms but far re- 
moved from its original nature. The difficulty then consists in 
the fact that it is not altogether easy to decide what in the actual 
conditions is to be taken as a faithful copy of the significant past 
and what is to be considered as a secondary distortion of it. 


law that the members of the same totem are not 
allowed to enter into sexual relations with each 
other; that is, that they cannot marry each other. 
This represents the exogamy which is associated 
with the totem. 

This sternly maintained prohibition is very re- 
markable. There is nothing to account for it in 
anything that we have hitherto learned from the 
conception of the totem or from any of its at- 
tributes; that is, we do not understand how it 
happened to enter the system of totemism. We 
are therefore not astonished if some investigators 
simply assume that at first exogamy — both as to 
its origin and to its meaning— had nothing to do 
with totemism, but that it was added to it at 
some time without any deeper association, when 
marriage restrictions proved necessary. How- 
ever that may be, the association of totemism 
and exogamy exists, and proves to be very strong. 

Let us elucidate the meaning of this prohibi- 
tion through further discussion. 

a) The violation of the prohibition is not left 
to what is, so to speak, an automatic punishment, 
as is the case with other violations of the prohibi- 
tions of the totem (e.g., not to kill the totem 
animal), but is most energetically avenged by 
the whole tribe as if it were a question of warding 
off a danger that threatens the community as a 
whole or a guilt that weighs upon all. A few 


sentences from Frazer's book 3 will show how 
seriously such trespasses are treated by these 
savages who, according to our standard, are 
otherwise very immoral. 

"In Australia the regular penalty for sexual 
intercourse with a person of a forbidden clan is 
death. It matters not whether the woman is 
of the same local group or has been captured in 
war from another tribe ; a man of the wrong clan 
who uses her as his wife is hunted down and 
killed by his clansmen, and so is the woman; 
though in some cases, if they succeed in eluding 
capture for a certain time, the offense may be 
condoned. In the Ta-Ta-thi tribe, New South 
Wales, in the rare cases which occur, the man is 
killed, but the woman is only beaten or speared, 
or both, till she is nearly dead; the reason given 
for not actually killing her being that she was 
probably coerced. Even in casual amours the 
clan prohibitions are strictly observed ; any viola- 
tions of these prohibitions ' are regarded with 
the utmost abhorrence and are punished by 
death' (Howitt)." 

b) As the same severe punishment is also 
meted out for temporary love affairs which have 
not resulted in childbirth, the assumption of 
other motives, perhaps of a practical nature, be- 
comes improbable. 

8 Frazer, 1. c. p. 54. 


c) As the totem is hereditary and is not 
changed by marriage, the results of the prohibi- 
tion, for instance in the case of maternal heredity, 
are easily perceived. If, for example, the man 
belongs to a clan with the totem of the Kangaroo 
and marries a woman of the Emu totem, the chil- 
dren, both boys and girls, are all Emu. Accord- 
ing to the totem law incestuous relations with his 
mother and his sister, who are Emu like himself, 
are therefore made impossible for a son of this 
marriage. 4 

d) But we need only a reminder to realize 
that the exogamy connected with the totem ac- 
complishes more; that is, aims at more than the 
prevention of incest with the mother or the sisters. 
It also makes it impossible for the man to have 
sexual union with all the women of his own group, 
with a number of females, therefore, who are not 
consanguinously related to him, by treating all 
these women like blood relations. The psycho- 
logical justification for this extraordinary restric- 
tion, which far exceeds anything comparable to 

4 But the father, who is a Kangaroo, is free — at least under this 
prohibition — to commit incest with his daughters, who are Emu. 
In the case of paternal inheritance of the totem the father would 
be Kangaroo as well as the children; then incest with the daugh- 
ters would be forbidden to the father and incest with the mother 
would be left open to the son. These consequences of the totem 
prohibition seem to indicate that the maternal inheritance is older 
than the paternal one, for there are grounds for assuming that the 
totem prohibitions are directed first of all against the incestuous 
desires of the son. 


it among civilized races, is not, at first, evident. 
All we seem to understand is that the role of the 
totem (the animal) as ancestor is taken very seri- 
ously. Everybody descended from the same 
totem is consanguinous ; that is, of one family; 
and in this family the most distant grades of re- 
lationship are recognized as an absolute obstacle 
to sexual union. 

Thus these savages reveal to us an unusually 
high grade of incest dread or incest sensitiveness, 
combined with the peculiarity, which we do not 
very well understand, of substituting the totem 
relationship for the real blood relationship. But 
we must not exaggerate this contradiction too 
much, and let us bear in mind that the totem 
prohibitions include real incest as a special case. 

In what manner the substitution of the totem 
group for the actual family has come about re- 
mains a riddle, the solution of which is perhaps 
bound up with the explanation of the totem it- 
self. Of course it must be remembered that with 
a certain freedom of sexual intercourse, extend- 
ing beyond the limitations of matrimony, the 
blood relationship, and with it also the prevention 
of incest, becomes so uncertain that we cannot 
dispense with some other basis for the prohibition. 
It is therefore not superfluous to note that the 
customs of Australians recognize social condi- 
tions and festive occasions at which the exclusive 


conjugal right of a man to a woman is violated. 
The linguistic custom of these tribes, as well 
as of most totem races, reveals a peculiarity which 
undoubtedly is pertinent in this connection. For 
the designations of relationship of which they 
make use do not take into consideration the rela- 
tion between two individuals, but between an 
individual and his group ; they belong, according 
to the expression of L. H. Morgan, to the "class- 
ifying" system. That means that a man calls 
not only his begetter "father" but also every other 
man who, according to the tribal regulations, 
might have married his mother and thus become 
his father; he calls "mother" not only the woman 
who bore him but also every other woman who 
might have become his mother without violation 
of the tribal laws; he calls "brothers" and "sis- 
ters" not only the children of his real parents, 
but also the children of all the persons named 
who stand in the parental group relation with 
him, and so on. The kinship names which two 
Australians give each other do not, therefore, 
necessarily point to a blood relationship between 
them, as they would have to according to the 
custom of our language ; they signify much more 
the social than the physical relations. An ap- 
proach to this classifying system is perhaps to be 
found in our nursery, when the child is induced to 
greet every male and female friend of the parents 


as "uncle" and "aunt," or it may be found in a 
transferred sense when we speak of "Brothers 
in Apollo/' or "Sisters in Christ." 

, The explanation of this linguistic custom, 
which seems so strange to us, is simple if looked 
upon as a remnant and indication of those mar- 
riage institutions which the Rev. L. Fison has 
called "group marriage," characterized by a num- 
ber of men exercising conjugal rights over a 
number of women. The children of this group 
marriage would then rightly look upon each other 
as brothers and sisters although not born of the 
same mother, and would take all the men of the 
group for their fathers. 

Although a number of authors, as, for instance, 
B. Westermarck in his "History of Human Mar- 
riage," 5 oppose the conclusions which others have 
drawn from the existence of group-relationship 
names, the best authorities on the Australian 
savages are agreed that the classiflcatory rela- 
tionship names must be considered as survivals 
from the period of group marriages. And, ac- 
cording to Spencer and Gillen, 6 a certain form of 
group marriage can be established as still exist- 
ing to-day among the tribes of the Urabunna 
and the Dieri. Group marriage therefore pre- 
ceded individual marriage among these races 

5 Second edition, 1902. 

« "The Native Tribes of Central Australia," London, 1899. 


and did not disappear without leaving distinct 
traces in language and custom. 

But if we replace individual marriage, we can 
then grasp the apparent excess of cases of incest 
shunning which we have met among these same 
races. The totem exogamy, or prohibition of 
sexual intercourse between members of the same 
clan, seemed the most appropriate means for the 
prevention of group incest ; and this totem exog- 
amy then became fixed and long survived its 
original motivation. 

Although we believe that we understand the 
motives of the marriage restrictions among the 
Australian savages, we have still to learn that 
the actual conditions reveal a still more bewilder- 
ing complication. For there are only few tribes 
in Australia which show no other prohibition be- 
sides the totem barrier. Most of them are so 
organized that they fall into two divisions which 
have been called marriage classes, or phratries. 
Each of these marriage groups is exogamous and 
includes a majority of totem groups. Usually 
each marriage group is again divided into two 
sub-classes (sub-phratries), and the whole tribe 
is therefore divided into four classes; the sub- 
classes thus standing between the phratries and 
the totem groups. 

The typical and often very intricate scheme 


of organization of an Australian tribe therefore 
looks as follows : 


a b 


c o/ e 


Q6V 6ET1 123 456 

The twelve totem groups are brought under! 
four subclasses and two main classes. All the 
divisions are exogamous. 7 The subclass c forms 
an exogamous unit with e, and the subclass d 
with f . The success or the tendency of these ar- 
rangements is quite obvious; they serve as a fur- 
ther restriction on the marriage choice and on 
sexual freedom. If there were only these twelve 
totem groups — assuming the same number of 
people in each group — every member of a group 
would have Hi 2 of all the women of the tribe to 
choose from. The existence of the two phratries 
reduces this number to %2 or Vi\ a man of the 
totem a can only marry a woman from the groups 
1 to 6. With the introduction of the two sub- 
classes the selection sinks to %2 or %; a man of 

7 The number of totems is arbitrarily chosen. 


the totem <* must limit his marriage choice to 
the woman of the totems 4, 5, 6. 

The historical relations of the marriage classes 
— of which there are found as many as eight in 
some tribes — are quite unexplained. We only 
see that these arrangements seek to attain the 
same object as the totem exogamy, and even 
strive for more. But whereas the totem exog- 
amy makes the impression of a sacred statute 
which sprang into existence, no one knows how, 
and is therefore a custom, the complicated insti- 
tutions of the marriage classes, with their sub- 
divisions and the conditions attached to them, 
seem to spring from legislation with a definite 
aim in view. They have perhaps taken up afresh 
the task of incest prohibition because the influ- 
ence of the totem was on the wane. And while 
the totem system is, as we know, the basis of all 
other social obligations and moral restrictions of 
the tribe, the importance of the phratries gener- 
ally ceases when the regulation of the marriage 
choice at which they aimed has been accom- 

In the further development of the classifica- 
tion of the marriage system there seems to be a 
tendency to go beyond the prevention of natural 
and group incest, and to prohibit marriage be- 
tween more distant group relations, in a manner 
similar to the Catholic church, which extended 


the marriage prohibitions always in force for 
brother and sisters, to cousins, and invented for 
them the grades of spiritual kinship. 8 

It would hardly serve our purpose to go into 
the extraordinarily intricate and unsettled dis- 
cussion concerning the origin and significance of 
the marriage classes, or to go more deeply into 
their relation to totemism. It is sufficient for our 
purposes to point out the great care expended 
by the Australians as well as by other savage 
people to prevent incest. 9 We must say that 
these savages are even more sensitive to incest 
than we, perhaps because they are more subject 
to temptations than we are, and hence require 
more extensive protection against it. 

But the incest dread of these races does not 
content itself with the creation of the institutions 
described, which, in the main, seem to be directed 
against group incest. We must add a series of 
"customs" which watch over the individual be- 
havior to near relatives in our sense, which are 
maintained with almost religious severity and of 
whose object there can hardly be any doubt. 
These customs or custom prohibitions may be 
called "avoidances." They spread far beyond 

8 Article "Totemism" in Encyclopedia Britannica, eleventh edi- 
tion, 1911 (A. Lang). 

Q Storfer has recently drawn special attention to this point in 
his monograph: "Parricide as a Special Case. Papers on Ap- 
plied Psychic Investigation," No. 12, Vienna, 1911. 


the Australian totem races. But here again I 
must ask the reader to be content with a frag- 
mentary excerpt from the abundant material. 

Such restrictive prohibitions are directed in 
Melanesia against the relations of boys with their 
mothers and sisters. Thus, for instance, on 
Lepers Island, one of the New Hebrides, the boy 
leaves his maternal home at a fixed age and 
moves to the "clubhouse," where he then regu- 
larly sleeps and takes his meals. He may still 
visit his home to ask for food ; but if his sister is 
at home he must go away before he has eaten; if 
no sister is about he mav sit down to eat near the 
door. If brother and sister meet by chance in 
the open, she must run away or turn aside and 
conceal herself. If the boy recognizes certain 
footprints in the sand as his sister's he is not to 
follow them, nor is she to follow his. He will 
not even mention her name and will guard against 
using any current word if it forms part of her 
name. This avoidance, which begins with the 
ceremony of puberty, is strictly observed for life. 
The reserve between mother and son increases 
with age and generally is more obligatory on the 
mother's side. If she brings him something to 
eat she does not give it to him herself but puts it 
down before him, nor does she address him in the 
familiar manner of mother and son, but uses the 
formal address. Similar customs obtain in New 


Caledonia. If brother and sister meet, she flees 
into the bush and he passes by without turning 
his head toward her. 10 

On the Gazella Peninsula in New Britain a 
sister, beginning with her marriage, may no 
longer speak with her brother, nor does she utter 
his name but designates him by means of a cir- 
cumlocution. 11 

In New Mecklenburg some cousins are subject 
to such restrictions, which also apply to brothers 
and sisters. They may neither approach each 
other, shake hands, nor give each other presents, 
though they may talk to each other at a distance 
of several paces. The penalty for incest with a 
sister is death through hanging. 12 

These rules of avoidance are especially severe 
in the Fiji Islands where they concern not only 
consanguinous sisters but group sisters as well. 
To hear that these savages hold sacred orgies in 
which persons of just these forbidden degrees 
of kinship seek sexual union would seem still 
more peculiar to us, if we did not prefer to make 
use of this contradiction to explain the prohibi- 
tion instead of being astonished at it. 13 

1° R. H. Codrington, "The Melanesians," also Frazer: "Totemism 
and Exogamy," Vol. I, p. 77. 

ii Frazer, 1. c. II, p. 124, according to Kleintischen: The In- 
habitants of the Coast of the Gazelle Peninsula. 

12 Frazer, 1. c. II, p. 131, according to P. G. Peckel in An- 
thropes, 1908. 

13 Fraser, 1. c. II, p. 147, according to the Rev. L. Fison. 


Among the Battas of Sumatra these laws of 
avoidance affect all near relationships. For in- 
stance, it would be most offensive for a Battan 
to accompany his own sister to an evening party. 
A brother will feel most uncomfortable in the 
company of his sister even when other persons are 
also present. If either comes into the house, the 
other prefers to leave. Nor will a father remain 
alone in the house with his daughter any more 
than the mother with her son. The Dutch mis- 
sionary who reported these customs added that 
unfortunately he had to consider them well 
founded. It is assumed without question by 
these races that a man and a woman left 
alone together will indulge in the most ex- 
treme intimacy, and as they expect all kinds 
of punishments and evil consequences from 
consanguinous intercourse they do quite right 
to avoid all temptations by means of such pro- 
hibitions. 14 

Among the Barongos in Delagoa Bay, in 
Africa, the most rigorous precautions are di- 
rected, curiously enough, against the sister-in- 
law, the wife of the brother of one's own wife. 
If a man meets this person who is so dangerous 
to him, he carefully avoids her. He does not 
dare to eat out of the same dish with her; he 
speaks only timidly to her, does not dare to enter 

14 Frazer, 1. c. II, p. 189. 


her hut, and greets her only with a trembling 
voice. 15 

Among the Akamba (or Wakamba) in British 
East Africa, a law of avoidance is in force which 
one would have expected to encounter more fre- 
quently. A girl must carefully avoid her own 
father between the time of her puberty and her 
marriage. She hides herself if she meets him 
on the street and never attempts to sit down next 
to him, behaving in this way right up to her en- 
gagement. But after her marriage no further 
obstacle is put in the way of her social intercourse 
with her father. 16 

The most widespread and strictest avoidance, 
which is perhaps the most interesting one for 
civilized races, is that which restricts the social 
relations- between a man and his mother-in-law. 
It is quite general in Australia, but it is also in 
force among the Melanesian, Polynesian and 
Negro races of Africa as far as the traces of 
totemism and group relationship reach, and prob- 
ably further still. Among some of these races 
similar prohibitions exist against the harmless 
social intercourse of a wife with her father-in-law, 
but these are by far not so constant or so serious. 
In a few cases both parents-in-law become ob- 
jects of avoidance. 

15 Frazer, I. c. II, p. 388, according to Junod. 
is Frazer, 1. c. II, p. 424. 


As we are less interested in the ethnographic 
dissemination than in the substance and the pur- 
pose of the mother-in-law avoidance, I will here 
also limit myself to a few examples. 

On the Banks Island these prohibitions are 
very severe and painfully exact. A man will 
avoid the proximity of his mother-in-law as she 
avoids his. If they meet by chance on a path, 
the woman steps aside and turns her back until 
he is passed, or he does the same. 

In Vanna Lava (Port Patterson) a man will 
not even walk behind his mother-in-law along the 
beach until the rising tide has washed away the 
trace of her foot-steps. But they may talk to 
each other at a certain distance. It is quite out 
of the question that he should ever pronounce 
the name of his mother-in-law, or she his. 17 

On the Solomon Islands, beginning with his 
marriage, a man must neither see nor speak with 
his mother-in-law. If he meets her he acts as if 
he did not know her and runs away as fast as he 
can in order to hide himself. 18 

Among the Zulu Kaffirs custom demands that 
a man should be ashamed of his mother-in-law 
and that he should do everything to avoid her 
company. He does not enter a hut in which she 

17 Frazer, 1. c. II, p. 76. 

is Frazer, 1. c. II, p. 113, according to C. Ribbe: "Two Years 
among the Cannibals of the Solomon Islands," 1905. 


is, and when they meet he or she goes aside, she 
perhaps hiding behind a bush while he holds his 
shield before his face. If they cannot avoid each 
other and the woman has nothing with which to 
cover herself, she at least binds a bunch of grass 
around her head in order to satisfy the ceremon- 
ial requirements. Communication between them 
must either be made through a third person or 
else they may shout at each other at a consider- 
able distance if they have some barrier between 
them as, for instance, the enclosure of a kraal. 
Neither may utter the other's name. 19 

Among the Basogas, a negro tribe living in the 
region of the Nile sources, a man may talk to his 
mother-in-law only if she is in another room of 
the house and is not visible to him. Moreover, 
this race abominates incest to such an extent as 
not to let it go unpunished even among domestic 
animals. 20 

Whereas all observers have interpreted the 
purpose and meaning of the avoidances between 
near relatives as protective measures against in- 
cest, different interpretations have been given for 
those prohibitions which concern the relationship 
with the mother-in-law. It was quite incompre- 
hensible why all these races should manifest such 
great fear of temptation on the part of the man 

i» Frazer, 1. c. II, p. 385. 
20 Frazer, 1. c. II, p. 461. 


for an elderly woman, old enough to be his 
mother. 21 

The same objection was also raised against the 
conception of Fison who called attention to the 
fact that certain marriage class systems show 
a gap in that they make marriage between a man 
and his mother-in-law theoretically not impossi- 
ble and that a special guarantee was therefore 
necessary to guard against this possibility. 

Sir J. Lubbock, in his book "The Origin of 
Civilization," traces back the behavior of the 
mother-in-law toward the son-in-law to the 
former "marriage by capture." "As long as the 
capture of women actually took place, the in- 
dignation of the parents was probably serious 
enough. When nothing but symbols of this 
form of marriage survived, the indignation of 
the parents was also symbolized and this custom 
continued after its origin had been forgotten." 
Crawley has found it easy to show how little this 
tentative explanation agrees with the details of 
actual observation. 

E. B. Tylor thinks that the treatment of the 
son-in-law on the part of the mother-in-law is 
nothing more than a form of "cutting" on the 
part of the woman's family. The man counts as 
a stranger, and this continues until the first child 
is born. But even if no account is taken of cases 

21 V. Crawley: "The Mystic Rose," London, 1902, p. 405. 


in which this last condition does not remove the 
prohibition, this explanation is subject to the ob- 
jection that it does not throw any light on the 
custom dealing with the relation between mother- 
in-law and son-in-law, thus overlooking the sex- 
ual factor, and that it does not take into account 
the almost sacred loathing which finds expres- 
sion in the laws of avoidance. 22 

A Zulu woman who was asked about the basis 
for this prohibition showed great delicacy of feel- 
ing in her answer : "It is not right that he should 
see the breasts which nursed his wife." 23 

It is known that also among civilized races the 
relation of son-in-law and mother-in-law belongs 
to one of the most difficult sides of family organ- 
ization. Although laws of avoidance no longer 
exist in the society of the white races of Europe 
and America, much quarreling and displeasure 
would often be avoided if they did exist and did 
not have to be reestablished by individuals. 
Many a European will see an act of high wis- 
dom in the laws of avoidance which savage races 
have established to preclude any understanding 
between two persons who have become so closely 
related. There is hardly any doubt that there 
is something in the psychological situation of 

22 Crawley, 1. c. p. 407. 

23 Crawley, I. c. p. 401, according to Leslie: "Among the Zulus 
and Amatongas," 1875. 


mother-in-law and son-in-law which furthers hos- 
tilities between them and renders living together 
difficult. The fact that the witticisms of civil- 
ized races show such a preference for this very- 
mother-in-law theme seems to me to point to 
the fact that the emotional relations between 
mother-in-law and son-in-law are controlled by 
components which stand in sharp contrast to each 
other. I mean that the relation is really "ambi- 
valent," that is, it is composed of conflicting feel- 
ings of tenderness and hostility. 

A certain part of these feelings is evident. 
The mother-in-law is unwilling to give up the 
possession of her daughter; she distrusts the 
stranger to whom her daughter has been deliv- 
ered, and shows a tendency to maintain the dom- 
inating position, to which she became accustomed 
at home. On the part of the man, there is the 
determination not to subject himself any longer 
to any foreign will, his jealousy of all persons 
who preceded him in the possession of his wife's 
tenderness, and, last but not least, his aversion 
to being disturbed in his illusion of sexual over- 
valuation. As a rule such a disturbance eman- 
ates for the most part from his mother-in-law 
who reminds him of her daughter through so 
many common traits but who lacks all the charm 
of youth, such as beauty and that psychic spon- 
taneity which makes his wife precious to him. 


The knowledge of hidden psychic feelings 
which psychoanalytic investigation of individuals 
has given us, makes it possible to add other mo- 
tives to the above. Where the psychosexual 
needs of the woman are to be satisfied in marriage 
and family life, there is always the danger of dis- 
satisfaction through the premature termination 
of the conjugal relation, and the monotony in the 
wife's emotional life. The ageing mother pro- 
tects herself against this by living through the 
lives of her children by identifying herself with 
them and making their emotional experiences her 
own. Parents are said to remain young with 
their children, and this is, in fact, one of the most 
valuable psychic benefits which parents derive 
from their children. Childlessness thus elimin- 
ates one of the best means to endure the neces- 
sary resignation imposed upon the individual 
through marriage. This emotional identifica- 
tion with the daughter may easily go so far with 
the mother that she also falls in love with the man 
her daughter loves, which leads, in extreme cases, 
to severe forms of neurotic ailments on account 
of the violent psychic resistance against this emo- 
tional predisposition. At all events the tendency 
to such infatuation is very frequent with the 
mother-in-law, and either this infatuation itself 
or the tendency opposed to it joins the conflict 
of contending forces in the psyche of the mother- 


in-law. Very often it is just this harsh and sad- 
istic component of the love emotion which is 
turned against the son-in-law in order better to 
suppress the forbidden tender feelings. 

The relation of the husband to his mother-in- 
law is complicated through similar feelings which, 
however, spring from other sources. The path 
of object selection has normally led him to his 
love object through the image of his mother and 
perhaps of his sister ; in consequence of the incest 
barriers his preference for these two beloved per- 
sons of his childhood has been deflected and he 
is then able to find their image in strange objects. 
He now sees the mother-in-law taking the place 
of his own mother and of his sister's mother, and 
there develops a tendency to return to the primi- 
tive selection, against which everything in him re- 
sists. His incest dread demands that he should 
not be reminded of the genealogy of his love 
selection; the actuality of his mother-in-law, 
whom he had not known all his life like his mother 
so that her picture can be preserved unchanged 
in his unconscious, facilitates this rejection. An 
added mixture of irritability and animosity in his 
feelings leads us to suspect that the mother-in- 
law actually represents an incest temptation for 
the son-in-law, just as it not infrequently hap- 
pens that a man falls in love with his subsequent 


mother-in-law before his inclination is trans- 
ferred to her daughter. 

I see no objection to the assumption that it is 
just this incestuous factor of the relationship 
which motivates the avoidance between son- and 
mother-in-law among savages. Among the ex- 
planations for the "avoidances" which these 
primitive races observe so strictly, we would 
therefore give preference to the opinion origin- 
ally expressed by Fison, who sees nothing in these 
regulations but a protection against possible in- 
cest. This would also hold good for all the 
other avoidances between those related by blood 
or by marriage. There is only one difference, 
namely, in the first case the incest is direct, so 
that the purpose of the prevention might be con- 
scious; in the other case, which includes the 
mother-in-law relation, the incest would be a 
phantasy temptation brought about by unconsci- 
ous intermediary links. 

We have had little opportunity in this exposi- 
tion to show that the facts of folk psychology can 
be seen in a new light through the application 
of the psychoanalytic point of view, for the in- 
cest dread of savages has long been known as 
such, and is in need of no further interpreta- 
tion. What we can add to the further apprecia- 
tion of incest dread is the statement that it is a 


subtle infantile trait and is in striking agreement 
with the psychic life of the neurotic. Psycho- 
analysis has taught us that the first object selec- 
tion of the boy is of an incestuous nature and that 
it is directed to the forbidden objects, the mother 
and the sister; psychoanalysis has taught us also 
the methods through which the maturing indi- 
vidual frees himself from these incestuous at- 
tractions. The neurotic, however, regularly 
presents to us a piece of psychic infantilism ; he 
has either not been able to free himself from the 
childlike conditions of psychosexuality, or else he 
has returned to them ( inhibited development and 
regression). Hence the incestuous fixations of 
the libido still play or again are playing the main 
role in his unconscious psychic life. We have 
gone so far as to declare that the relation to the 
parents instigated by incestuous longings, is the 
central complex of the neurosis. This discovery 
of the significance of incest for the neurosis nat- 
urally meets with the most general incredulity 
on the part of the grown-up, normal man; a 
similar rejection will also meet the researches 
of Otto Rank, which show in even larger scope to 
what extent the incest theme stands in the center 
of poetical interest and how it forms the material 
of poetry in countless variations and distortions. 
We are forced to believe that such a rejection 
is above all the product of man's deep aversion 


to his former incest wishes which have since suc- 
cumbed to repression. It is therefore of im- 
portance to us to be able to show that man's in- 
cest wishes, which later are destined to become 
unconscious, are still felt to be dangerous by sav- 
age races who consider them worthy of the most 
severe defensive measures. 



Taboo is a Polynesian word, the translation 
of which provides difficulties for us because we 
no longer possess the idea which it connotes. It 
was still current with the ancient Romans: their 
word "sacer" was the same as the taboo of the 
Polynesians. The "ayo?" of the Greeks and the 
"Kodaush" of the Hebrews must also have sig- 
nified the same thing which the Polynesians ex- 
press through their word taboo and what many 
races in America, Africa (Madagascar), North 
and Central Asia express through analogous 

For us the meaning of taboo branches off into 
two opposite directions. On the one hand it 
means to us sacred, consecrated : but on the other 
hand it means, uncanny, dangerous, forbidden, 
and unclean. The opposite for taboo is desig- 
nated in Polynesian by the word noa and sig- 
nifies something ordinary and generally accessi- 
ble. Thus something like the concept of re- 
serve inheres in taboo; taboo expresses itself es- 
sentially in prohibitions and restrictions. Our 



combination of "holy dread" would often ex- 
press the meaning of taboo. 

The taboo restrictions are different from re- 
ligious or moral prohibitions. They are not 
traced to a commandment of a god but really they 
themselves impose their own prohibitions; they 
are differentiated from moral prohibitions by 
failing to be included in a system which declares 
abstinences in general to be necessary and gives 
reasons for this necessity. The taboo prohibi- 
tions lack all justification and are of unknown 
origin. Though incomprehensible to us they are 
taken as a matter of course by those who are un- 
der their dominance. 

Wundt 1 calls taboo the oldest unwritten code 
of law of humanity. It is generally assumed 
that taboo is older than the gods and goes back 
to the pre-religious age. 

As we are in need of an impartial presentation 
of the subject of taboo before subjecting it to 
psychoanalytic consideration I shall now cite 
an excerpt from the article "Taboo" in the En- 
cyclopedia Britannica written by the anthro- 
pologist Northcote W. Thomas, 2 

"Properly speaking taboo includes only a) the 
sacred (or unclean) character oL persons or 

i Volkerpsychologie, II Band, "Mythus und Religion," 1906, II 
p. 308. 

2 Eleventh Edition, this article also gives the most important 


things, b) the kind of prohibition which results 
from this character, and c) the sanctity (or un- 
cleanliness) which results from a violation of the 
prohibition. The converse of taboo in Polynesia 
is 'noa' and allied forms which mean 'general' or 
'common' . . . 

'Various classes of taboo in the wider sense 
may be distinguished: 1. natural or direct, the 
result of 'mana' (mysterious power) inherent in 
a person or thing; 2. communicated or indirect, 
equally the result of 'mana' but (a) acquired or 
(b) imposed by a priest, chief or other person; 
3. intermediate, where both factors are present, 
as in the appropriation of a wife to her husband. 
The term taboo is also applied to ritual prohibi- 
tions of a different nature; but its use in these 
senses is better avoided. It might be argued 
that the term should be extended to embrace 
cases in which the sanction of the prohibition is 
the creation of a god or spirit, i.e., to religious 
interdictions as distinguished from magical, but 
there is neither automatic action nor contagion 
in such a case, and a better term for it is religious 

"The objects of taboo are many: 1. direct 
taboos aim at (a) protection of important per- 
sons — chiefs, priests, etc. — and things against 
harm; (b) safeguarding of the weak — women, 
children and common people generally — from the 



powerful mana (magical influence) of chiefs and 
priests; (c) providing against the dangers in- 
curred by handling or coming in contact with 
corpses, by eating certain food, etc.; (d) guard- 
ing the chief acts of life — births, initiation, mar- 
riage and sexual functions — against interference ; 
(e) securing human beings against the wrath or 
power of gods and spirits; 3 (f) securing unborn 
infants and young children, who stand in a spe- 
cially sympathetic relation with their parents, 
from the consequence of certain actions, and more 
especially from the communication of qualities 
supposed to be derived from certain foods. 2. 
Taboos are imposed in order to secure against 
thieves the property of an individual, his fields, 
tools, etc." 

Other parts of the article may be summarized 
as follows. Originally the punishment for the 
violation of a taboo was probably left to an 
inner, automatic arrangement. The violated 
taboo avenged itself. Wherever the taboo was 
related to ideas of gods and demons an auto- 
matic punishment was expected from the power 
of the godhead. In other cases, probably as a 
result of a further development of the idea, so- 
ciety took over the punishment of the offender, 
whose action has endangered his companions. 

a This application of the taboo can be omitted as not originally 
belonging in this connection. 


Thus man's first systems of punishment are also 
connected with taboo. 

"The violation of a taboo makes the offender 
himself taboo." The author goes on to say that 
certain dangers resulting from the violation of 
a taboo may be exercised through acts of pen- 
ance and ceremonies of purification. 

A peculiar power inherent in persons and 
ghosts, which can be transmitted from them to 
inanimate objects is regarded as the source of 
the taboo. This part of the article reads as fol- 
lows : "Persons or things which are regarded as 
taboo may be compared to objects charged with 
electricity ; they are the seat of tremendous power 
which is transmissible by contact, and may be 
liberated with destructive effect if the organisms 
which provoke its discharge are too weak to re- 
sist it; the result of a violation of a taboo de- 
pends partly on the strength of the magical in- 
fluence inherent in the taboo object or person, 
partly on the strength of the opposing mana of 
the violator of the taboo. Thus, kings and chiefs 
are possessed of great power, and it is death for 
their subjects to address them directly; but a 
minister or other person of greater mana than 
common, can approach them unharmed, and can 
in turn be approached by their inferiors without 
risk. . . . So, too, indirect taboos depend for 
their strength on the mana of him who opposes 


them; if it is a chief or a priest, they are more 
powerful than those imposed by a common per- 

The fact that a taboo is transmissible has surely 
given rise to the effort of removing it through 
expiatory ceremonies. 

The author states that there are permanent 
and temporary taboos. The former comprise 
priest and chiefs as well as the dead and every- 
thing that has belonged to them. Temporary 
taboos attach themselves to certain conditions 
such as menstruation and child-bed, the status 
of the warrior before and after the expedition, 
the activities of fishing and of the chase, and 
similar activities. A general taboo may also be 
imposed upon a large district like an ecclesias- 
tical interdict, and may then last for years. 

If I judge my readers' impressions correctly 
I dare say that after hearing all that was said 
about taboo they are far from knowing what to 
understand by it and where to store it in their 
minds. This is surelv due to the insufficient in- 
formation I have given and to the omission of 
all discussions concerning the relation of taboo 
to superstition, to belief in the soul, and to re- 
ligion. On the other hand, I fear that a more 
detailed description of what is known about taboo 
would be still more confusing; I can therefore 
assure the reader that the state of affairs is really 


far from clear. We may say, however, that we 
deal with a series of restrictions which these 
primitive races impose upon themselves ; this and 
that is forbidden without any apparent reason; 
nor does it occur to them to question this matter, 
for they subject themselves to these restrictions 
as a matter of course and are convinced that any 
transgression will be punished automatically in 
the most severe manner. There are reliable re- 
ports that innocent transgressions of such pro- 
hibitions have actually been punished automatic- 
ally. For instance, the innocent offender who 
had eaten from a forbidden animal became deeply 
depressed, expected his death and then actually 
died. The prohibitions mostly concern matters 
which are capable of enjoyment such as freedom 
of movement and unrestrained intercourse; in 
some cases they appear very ingenious, evidently 
representing abstinences and renunciations; in 
other cases their content is quite incomprehen- 
sible, they seem to concern themselves with trifles 
and give the impression of ceremonials. Some- 
thing like a theory seems to underlie all these 
prohibitions, it seems as if these prohibitions are 
necessary because some persons and objects 
possess a dangerous power which is transmitted 
by contact with the object so charged, almost like 
a contagion. The quantity of this dangerous 
property is also taken into consideration. Some 


persons or things have more of it than others 
and the danger is precisely in accordance with the 
charge. The most peculiar part of it is that any 
one who has violated such a prohibition assumes 
the nature of the forbidden object as if he had 
absorbed the whole dangerous charge. This 
power is inherent in all persons who are more or 
less prominent, such as kings, priests and the 
newly born, in all exceptional physical states such 
as menstruation, puberty and birth, in everything 
sinister like illness and death and in everything 
connected with these conditions by virtue of con- 
tagion or dissemination. 

However, the term "taboo" includes all per- 
sons localities, objects and temporary conditions 
which are carriers or sources of this mysterious 
attribute. The prohibition derived from this at- 
tribute is also designated as taboo, and lastly 
taboo, in the literal sense, includes everything 
that is sacred, above the ordinary, and at the 
same time dangerous, unclean and mysterious. 

Both this word and the system corresponding 
to it express a fragment of psychic life which 
really is not comprehensible to us. And indeed it 
would seem that no understanding of it could be 
possible without entering into the study of the 
belief in spirits and demons which is so charac- 
teristic of these low grades of culture. 

Now why should we take any interest at all in 


the riddle of taboo? Not only, I think, because 
every psychological problem is well worth the 
effort of investigation for its own sake, but for 
other reasons as well. It may be surmised that 
the taboo of Polynesian savages is after all not 
so remote from us as we were at first inclined to 
believe; the moral and customary prohibitions 
which we ourselves obey may have some essen- 
tial relation to this primitive taboo the explana- 
tion of which may in the end throw light upon 
the dark origin of our own "categorical impera- 

We are therefore inclined to listen with keen 
expectations when an investigator like W. 
Wundt gives his interpretation of taboo, espe- 
cially as he promises to "go back to the very roots 
of the taboo concepts." 4 

Wundt states that the idea of taboo "includes 
all customs which express dread of particular ob- 
jects connected with cultic ideas or of actions hav- 
ing reference to them." 5 

On another occasion he says : "In accordance 
with the general sense of the word we under- 
stand by taboo every prohibition laid down in 
customs or manners or in expressly formulated 
laws, not to touch an object or to take it for one's 
own use, or to make use of certain proscribed 

4 Volkerpsychologie, Vol. II, Religion und My thus, p. 300. 
5 1. c. p. 237. 


words. ..." Accordingly there would not be 
a single race or stage of culture which had es- 
caped the injurious effects of taboo. 

Wundt then shows why he finds it more prac- 
tical to study the nature of taboo in the primi- 
tive states of Australian savages rather than in 
the higher culture of the Polynesian races. In 
the case of the Australians he divides taboo pro- 
hibitions into three classes according as they con- 
cern animals, persons or other objects. The ani- 
mal taboo, which consists essentially of the taboo 
against killing and eating, forms the nucleus of 
Totemism. 6 The taboo of the second class, 
which has human beings for its object, is of an 
essentially different nature. To begin with it 
is restricted to conditions which bring about an 
unusual situation in life for the person tabooed. 
Thus young men at the feast of initiation, women 
during menstruation and immediately after de- 
livery, newly born children, the diseased and es- 
pecially the dead, are all taboo. The constantly 
used property of any person, such as his clothes, 
tools and weapons, is permanently taboo for 
everybody else. In Australia the new name 
which a youth receives at his initiation into man- 
hood becomes part of his most personal property, 
it is taboo and must be kept secret. The taboos 
of the third class, which apply to trees, plants, 

6 Comp. Chapter I. 


houses and localities, are more variable and seem 
only to follow the rule that anything which for 
any reason arouses dread or is mysterious, be- 
comes subject to taboo. 

Wundt himself has to acknowledge that the 
changes which taboo undergoes in the richer cul- 
ture of the Polynesians and in the Malayan 
Archipelago are not very profound. The 
greater social differentiation of these races mani- 
fests itself in the fact that chiefs, kings and 
priests exercise an especially effective taboo and 
are themselves exposed to the strongest taboo 

But the real sources of taboo lie deeper than 
in the interests of the privileged classes: "They 
begin where the most primitive and at the same 
time the most enduring human impulses have 
their origin, namely, in the fear of the effect of 
demonic powers." 7 "The taboo, which origin- 
ally was nothing more than the objectified fear 
of the demonic power thought to be concealed 
in the tabooed object, forbids the irritation of 
this power and demands the placation of the 
demon whenever the taboo has been knowingly or 
unknowingly violated." 

The taboo then gradually became an autonom- 
ous power which has detached itself from demon- 
ism. It becomes the compulsion of custom and 

7 L c. p. 307. 


tradition and finally of the law. "But the com- 
mandment concealed behind taboo prohibitions 
which differ materially according to place and 
time, had originally the meaning: Beware of 
the wrath of the demons." 

Wundt therefore teaches that taboo is the ex- 
pression and evolution of the belief of primi- 
tive races in demonic powers, and that later 
taboo has dissociated itself from this origin and 
has remained a power simply because it was one 
by virtue of a kind of a psychic persistence and 
in this manner it became the root of our customs 
and laws. As little as one can object to the first 
part of this statement I feel, however, that I am 
only voicing the impression of many of my read- 
ers if I call Wundt's explanation disappointing. 
Wundt's explanation is far from going back to 
the sources of taboo concepts or to their deepest 
roots. For neither fear nor demons can be ac- 
cepted in psychology as finalities defying any 
further deduction. It would be different if 
demons really existed; but we know that, like 
gods, they are only the product of the psychic 
powers of man ; they have been created from and 
out of something. 

Wundt also expresses a number of important 
though not altogether clear opinions about the 
double meaning of taboo. According to him the 
division between sacred and unclean does not yet 


exist in the first primitive stages of taboo. For 
this reason these conceptions entirely lack the 
significance which they could only acquire later 
on when they came to be contrasted. The ani- 
mal, person, or place on which there is a taboo is 
demonic, that is, not sacred and therefore not yet, 
in the later sense, unclean. The expression 
taboo is particularly suitable for this undifferen- 
tiated and intermediate meaning of the demonic, 
in the sense of something which may not be 
touched, since it emphasizes a characteristic which 
finally adheres both to what is sacred and to 
the unclean, namely, the dread of contact. But 
the fact that this important characteristic is 
permanently held in common points to the exist- 
ence of an original agreement here between these 
two spheres which gave way to a differentia- 
tion only as the result of further conditions 
through which both finally developed into op- 

The belief associated with the original taboo, 
according to which a demonic power concealed 
in the object avenges the touching of it or its for- 
bidden use by bewitching the offender was still 
an entirely objectified fear. This had not yet 
separated into the two forms which it assumed at 
a more developed stage, namely, awe and aver- 

How did this separation come about? Ac- 


cording to Wundt, this was done through the 
transference of taboo prohibitions from the 
sphere of demons to that of theistic conceptions. 
The antithesis of sacred and unclean coincides 
with the succession of two mythological stages the 
first of which did not entirely disappear when 
the second was reached but continued in a state 
of greatly lowered esteem which gradually turned 
into contempt. It is a general law in mythology 
that a preceding stage, just because it has been 
overcome and pushed back by a higher stage, 
maintains itself next to it in a debased form so 
that the objects of its veneration become objects 
of aversion. 8 

Wundt's further elucidations refer to the re- 
lation of taboo to lustration and sacrifice. 

He who approaches the problem of taboo from 
the field of psychoanalysis, which is concerned 
with the study of the unconscious part of the 
individual's psychic life, needs but a moment's 
reflection to realize that these phenomena are by 
no means foreign to him. He knows people who 
have individually created such taboo prohibi- 
tions for themselves, which they follow as strictly 
as savages observe the taboos common to their 
tribe or society. If he were not accustomed to 

s 1. c. p. 313. 


call these individuals "compulsion neurotics" he 
would find the term "taboo disease" quite ap- 
propriate for their malady. Psychoanalytic in- 
vestigation has taught him the clinical etiology 
and the essential part of the psychological 
mechanism of this compulsion disease, so that 
he cannot resist applying what he has learnt 
there to explain corresponding manifestations in 
folk psychology. 

There is one warning to which we shall have to 
give heed in making this attempt. The similar- 
ity between taboo and compulsion disease may 
be purely superficial, holding good only for the 
manifestations of both without extending into 
their deeper characteristics. Nature loves to 
use identical forms in the most widely different 
biological connections, as, for instance, for coral 
stems and plants and even for certain crystals 
or for the formation of certain chemical precipi- 
tates. It would certainly be both premature and 
unprofitable to base conclusions relating to in- 
ner relationships upon the correspondence of 
merely mechanical conditions. We shall bear 
this warning in mind without, however, giving up 
our intended comparison on account of the pos- 
sibility of such confusions. 

The first and most striking correspondence be- 
tween the compulsion prohibitions of neurotics 
and taboo lies in the fact that the origin of these 


prohibitions is just as unmotivated and enigma- 
tic. They have appeared at some time or other 
and must now be retained on account of an un- 
conquerable anxiety. An external threat of 
punishment is superfluous, because an inner cer- 
tainty (a conscience) exists that violation will 
be followed by unbearable disaster. The very 
most that compulsion patients can tell us is the 
vague premonition that some person of their 
environment will suffer harm if they should vio- 
late the prohibition. Of what the harm is to 
consist is not known, and this inadequate in- 
formation is more likely f o be obtained during the 
later discussions of the expiatory and defensive 
actions than when the prohibitions themselves 
are being discussed. 

As in the case of taboo the nucleus of the neu- 
rotic prohibition is the act of touching, whence 
we derive the name touching phobia, or delire de 
toucher. The prohibition extends not only to 
direct contact with the body but also to the fig- 
urative use of the phrase as "to come into con- 
tact," or "be in touch with some one or some- 
thing." Anything that leads the thoughts to 
what is prohibited and thus calls forth mental 
contact is just as much prohibited as immediate 
bodily contact; this same extension is also found 
in taboo. 

Some prohibitions are easily understood from 


their purpose but others strike us as incompre- 
hensible, foolish and senseless. We designate 
such commands as "ceremonials" and we find that 
taboo customs show the same variations. 

Obsessive prohibitions possess an extraordi- 
nary capacity for displacement; they make use 
of almost any form of connection to extend from 
one object to another and then in turn make this 
new object "impossible," as one of my patients 
aptly puts it. This impossibility finally lays an 
embargo upon the whole world. The compul- 
sion neurotics act as if the "impossible" persons 
and things were the carriers of a dangerous con- 
tagion which is ready to displace itself through 
contact to all neighboring things. We have al- 
ready emphasized the same characteristics of con- 
tagion and transference in the description of 
taboo prohibitions. We also know that any one 
who has violated a taboo by touching something 
which is taboo becomes taboo himself, and no one 
may come into contact with him. 

I shall put side by side two examples of trans- 
ference or, to use a better term, displacement, one 
from the life of the Maori, and the other from my 
observation of a woman suffering from a com- 
pulsion neurosis : 

"For a similar reason a Maori chief would not 
blow on a fire with his mouth; for his sacred 
breath would communicate its sanctity to the 


fire, which would pass it on to the meat in the 
pot, which would pass it on to the man who ate 
the meat, which was in the pot, which stood on 
the fire, which was breathed on by the chief; so 
that the eater, infected by the chief's breath con- 
veyed through these intermediaries, would surely 
die." 9 

My patient demanded that a utensil which her 
husband had purchased and brought home should 
be removed lest it make the place where she lives 
impossible. For she has heard that this object 
was bought in a store which is situated, let us 
say, in Stag Street. But as the word stag is 
the name of a friend now in a distant city, whom 
she has known in her youth under her maiden 
name and whom she now finds "impossible," that 
is taboo, the object bought in Vienna is just as 
taboo as this friend with whom she does not want 
to come into contact. 

Compulsion prohibitions, like taboo prohibi- 
tions, entail the most extraordinary renuncia- 
tions and restrictions of life, but a part of these 
can be removed by carrying out certain acts which 
now also must be done because they have acquired 
a compulsive character (obsessive acts) ; there is 
no doubt that these acts are in the nature of 
penances, expiations, defense reactions, and puri- 

9 Frazer, "The Golden Bough," II, "Taboo and the Perils of the 
Soul," 1911, p. 136. 


fications. The most common of these obsessive 
acts is washing with water (washing obsession). 
A part of the taboo prohibitions can also be re- 
placed in this way, that is to say, their violation 
can be made good through such a "ceremonial," 
and here too lustration through water is the pre- 
ferred way. 

Let us now summarize the points in which the 
correspondence between taboo customs and the 
symptoms of compulsion neurosis are most 
clearly manifested: 1. In the lack of motiva- 
tion of the commandments, 2. in their enforce- 
ment through an inner need, 3. in their capacity 
of displacement and in the danger of contagion 
from what is prohibited, 4. and in the causation 
of ceremonial actions and commandments which 
emanate from the forbidden. 

However, psychoanalysis has made us familiar 
with the clinical history as well as the psychic 
mechanism of compulsion neurosis. Thus the 
history of a typical case of touching phobia reads 
as follows: In the very beginning, during the 
early period of childhood, the person manifested 
a strong pleasure in touching himself, the object 
of which was much more specialized than one 
would be inclined to expect. Presently the 
carrying out of this very pleasurable act of 
touching was opposed by a prohibition from 


without. 10 The prohibition was accepted be- 
cause it was supported by strong inner forces; u 
it proved to be stronger than the impulse which 
wanted to manifest itself through this act of 
touching. But due to the primitive psychic con- 
stitution of the child this prohibition did not suc- 
ceed in abolishing the impulse. Its only suc- 
cess lay in repressing the impulse (the pleasure of 
touching) and banishing it into the unconscious. 
Both the prohibition and the impulse remained; 
the impulse because it had only been repressed 
and not abolished, the prohibition, because if it 
had ceased the impulse would have broken 
through into consciousness and would have been 
carried out. An unsolved situation, a psychic 
fixation, had thus been created and now every- 
thing else emanated from the continued conflict 
between prohibition and impulse. 

The main characteristic of the psychic con- 
stellation which has thus undergone fixation lies 
in what one might call the ambivalent behavior 12 
of the individual to the object, or rather to an 
action regarding it. The individual constantly 
wants to carry out this action (the act of touch- 
ing), he sees in it the highest pleasure, but he 

10 Both the pleasure and the prohibition referred to touching 
one's own genitals. 

11 The relation to beloved persons who impose the prohibition. 

12 To use an excellent term coined by Bleuler, 


may not carry it out, and he even abominates it. 
The opposition between these two streams can- 
not be easily adjusted because — there is no other 
way to express it — they are so localized in the 
psychic life that they cannot meet. The pro- 
hibition becomes fully conscious, while the sur- 
viving pleasure of touching remains unconscious, 
the person knowing nothing about it. If this 
psychological factor did not exist the ambival- 
ence could neither maintain itself so long nor 
lead to such subsequent manifestations. 

In the clinical history of the case we have em- 
phasized the appearance of the prohibition in 
early childhood as the determining factor ; but for 
the further elaboration of the neurosis this role is 
played by the repression which appears at this 
age. On account of the repression which has 
taken place, which is connected with forgetting 
(amnesia) , the motivation of the prohibition that 
has become conscious remains unknown, and all 
attempts to unravel it intellectually must fail, 
as the point of attack cannot be found. The pro- 
hibition owes its strength — its compulsive char- 
acter — to its association with its unknown coun- 
terpart, the hidden and unabated pleasure, that 
is to say, to an inner need into which conscious in- 
sight is lacking. The transferability and repro- 
ductive power of the prohibition reflect a process 
which harmonizes with the unconscious pleasure 


and is very much facilitated through the psy- 
chological determinants of the unconscious. The 
pleasure of the impulse constantly undergoes dis- 
placement in order to escape the blocking which 
it encounters and seeks to acquire surrogates for 
the forbidden in the form of substitutive objects 
and actions. For the same reason the prohibi- 
tion also wanders and spreads to the new aims of 
the proscribed impulse. Every new advance of 
the repressed libido is answered by the prohibi- 
tion with a new severity. The mutual inhibi- 
tion of these two contending forces creates a 
need for discharge and for lessening the existing 
tension, in which we may recognize the motivation 
for the compulsive acts. In the neurosis there 
are distinctly acts of compromise which on the one 
hand may be regarded as proofs of remorse and 
efforts to expiate and similar actions ; but on the 
other hand they are at the same time substitutive 
actions which recompense the impulse for what 
has been forbidden. It is a law of neurotic dis- 
eases that these obsessive acts serve the impulse 
more and more and come nearer and nearer to the 
original forbidden act. 

We may now make the attempt to study taboo 
as if it were of the same nature as the compulsive 
prohibitions of our patients. It must naturally 
be clearly understood that many of the taboo pro- 
hibitions which we shall study are already second- 

U^ - f7^ 


ary, displaced and distorted, so that we shall have 
to be satisfied if we can shed some light upon the 
earliest and most important taboo prohibitions. 
We must also remember that the differences in 
the situation of the savage and of the neurotic 
may be important enough to exclude complete 
correspondence and prevent a point by point 
transfer from one to the other such as would be 
possible if we were dealing with exact copies. 

First of all it must be said that it is useless to 
question savages as to the real motivation of their 
prohibitions or as to the genesis of taboo. Ac- 
cording to our assumption they must be incapable 
of telling us anything about it since this motiva- 
tion is "unconscious" to them. But following the 
model of the compulsive prohibition we shall con- 
struct the history of taboo as follows: Taboos 
are very ancient prohibitions which at one time 
were forced upon a generation of primitive 
people from without, that is, they probably were 
forcibly impressed upon them by an earlier gen- 
eration. These prohibitions concerned actions 
for which there existed a strong desire. The pro- 
hibitions maintained themselves from generation 
to generation, perhaps only as the result of a tra- 
dition set up by paternal and social authority. 
But in later generations they have perhaps al- 
ready become "organized" as a piece of inherited 
psychic property. Whether there are such 


"innate ideas" or whether these have brought 
about the fixation of the taboo by themselves or 
by cooperating with education no one could de- 
cide in the particular case in question. The per- 
sistence of taboo teaches, however, one thing, 
namely, that the original pleasure to do the for- 
bidden still continues among taboo races. They 
therefore assume an ambivalent attitude toward 
their taboo prohibitions ; in their unconscious they 
would like nothing better than to transgress them 
but they are also afraid to do it; they are afraid 
just because they would like to transgress, and 
the fear is stronger than the pleasure. But in 
every individual of the race the desire for it is 
unconscious, just as in the neurotic. 

The oldest and most important taboo prohi- 
bitions are the two basic laws of totemism : namely 
not to kill the totem animal and to avoid sexual 
(intercourse with totem companions of the other 

It would therefore seem that these must have 
been the oldest and strongest desires of mankind. 
We cannot understand this and therefore we can- 
not use these examples to test our assumptions as 
long as the meaning and the origin of the totemic 
system is so wholly unknown to us. But the very 
wording of these taboos and the fact that they 
occur together will remind any one who knows the 
results of the psychoanalytic investigation of in- 


dividuals, of something quite definite which psy- 
choanalysts call the central point of the infantile 
wish life and the nucleus of the later neurosis. 13 

All other varieties of taboo phenomena which 
have led to the attempted classifications noted 
above become unified if we sum them up in the 
following sentence : The basis of taboo is a for- 
bidden action for which there exists a strong incli- 
nation in the unconscious. 

We know, without understanding it, that who- 
ever does what is prohibited and violates the 
taboo, becomes himself taboo. But how can we 
connect this fact with the other, namely that the 
taboo adheres not only to persons who have done 
what is prohibited but also to persons who are in 
exceptional circumstances, to these circumstances 
themselves, and to impersonal things? What 
can this dangerous attribute be, which always re- 
mains the same under all these different con- 
ditions ? Only one thing, namely, the propensity 
to arouse the ambivalence of man and to tempt 
him to violate the prohibition. 

An individual who has violated a taboo becomes 
himself taboo because he has the dangerous prop- 
erty of tempting others to follow his example. 
He arouses envy ; why should he be allowed to do 
what is prohibited to others? He is therefore 
really contagious, in so far as every example in- 

l 3 See Chapter IV Totemism, etc. 


cites to imitation, and therefore he himself must 
be avoided. 

But a person may become permanently or tem- 
porarily taboo without having violated any 
taboos, for the simple reason that he is in a con- 
dition which has the property of inciting the for- 
bidden desires of others and of awakening the 
ambivalent conflict in them. Most of the excep- 
tional positions and conditions have this character 
and possess this dangerous power. The king or 
chieftain rouses envy of his prerogatives; every- 
body would perhaps like to be king. The dead, 
the newly born, and women when they are in- 
capacitated, all act as incitements on account of 
their peculiar helplessness, while the individual 
who has just reached sexual maturity tempts 
through the promise of a new pleasure. There- 
fore all these persons and all these conditions are 
taboo, for one must not yield to the temptations 
which they offer. 

Now, too, we understand why the forces inher- 
ent in the "mana" of various persons can neutral- 
ize one another so that the mana of one individual 
can partly cancel that of the other. The taboo of 
a king is too strong for his subject because the 
social difference between them is too great. But 
a minister, for example, can become the harmless 
mediator between them. Translated from the 
language of taboo into the language of normal 


psychology this means: the subject who shrinks 
from the tremendous temptation which contact 
with the king creates for him can brook the inter- 
course of an official, whom he does not have to 
envy so much and whose position perhaps seems 
attainable to him. The minister, on his part, can 
moderate his envy of the king by taking into con- 
sideration the power that has been granted to him. 
Thus smaller differences in the magic power that 
lead to temptation are less to be feared than ex- 
ceptionally big differences. 

It is equally clear how the violation of certain 
taboo prohibitions becomes a social danger which 
must be punished or expiated by all the members 
of society lest it harm them all. This danger 
really exists if we substitute the known impulses 
for the unconscious desires. It consists in the 
possibility of imitation, as a result of which 
society would soon be dissolved. If the others 
did not punish the violation they would perforce 
become aware that they want to imitate the evil 

Though the secret meaning of a taboo prohi- 
bition cannot possibly be of so special a nature as 
in the case of a neurosis, we must not be aston- 
ished to find that touching plays a similar role in 
taboo prohibition as in the delire de toucher. To 
touch is the beginning of every act of possession, 


of every attempt to make use of a person or thing. 

We have interpreted the power of contagion 
which inheres in the taboo as the property of lead- 
ing into temptation, and of inciting to imitation. 
This does not seem to be in accord with the fact 
that the Contagiousness of the taboo is above all 
manifested in the transference to objects which 
thus themselves become carriers of the taboo. 

This transferability of the taboo reflects what 
is found in the neurosis, namely, the constant 
tendency of the unconscious impulse to become 
displaced through associative channels upon new 
objects. Our attention is thus drawn to the fact 
that the dangerous magic power of the "mana" 
corresponds to two real faculties, the capacity of 
reminding man of his forbidden wishes, and the 
apparently more important one of tempting him 
to violate the prohibition in the service of these 
wishes. Both functions reunite into one, how- 
ever, if we assume it to be in accord with a primi- 
tive psychic life that with the awakening of a 
memory of a forbidden action there should also be 
combined the awakening of the tendency to carry 
out the action. Memory and temptation then 
again coincide. We must also admit that if the 
example of a person who has violated a prohi- 
bition leads another to the same action, the dis- 
obedience of the prohibition has been transmitted 


like a contagion, just as the taboo is transferred 
from a person to an object, and from this to 

If the violation of a taboo can be condoned 
through expiation or penance, which means, of 
course, a renunciation of a possession or a liberty, 
we have the proof that the observance of a taboo 
regulation was itself a renunciation of something 
really wished for. The omission of one renuncia- 
tion is cancelled through a renunciation at some 
other point. This would lead us to conclude that, 
as far as taboo ceremonials are concerned, pen- 
ance is more primitive than purification. 

Let us now summarize what understanding we 
have gained of taboo through its comparison with 
the compulsive prohibition of the neurotic. 
Taboo is a very primitive prohibition imposed 
from without (by an authority) and directed 
against the strongest desires of man. The desire 
to violate it continues in the unconscious; per- 
sons who obey the taboo have an ambivalent feel- 
ing toward what is affected by the taboo. The 
magic power attributed to taboo goes back to its 
ability to lead man into temptation; it behaves 
like a contagion, because the example is con- 
tagious, and because the prohibited desire be- 
comes displacing in the unconscious upon some- 
thing else. The expiation for the violation of a 
taboo through a renunciation proves that a renun- 


ciation is at the basis of the observance of the 

We may ask what we have gained from the 
comparison of taboo with compulsion neurosis 
and what value can be claimed for the interpre- 
tation we have given on the basis of this compari- 
son? Our interpretation is evidently of no value 
unless it offers an advantage not to be had in 
any other way and unless it affords a better un- 
derstanding of taboo than was otherwise possible. 
We might claim that we have already given proof 
of its usefulness in what has been said above ; but 
we shall have to try to strengthen our proof by 
continuing the explanation of taboo prohibitions 
and customs in detail. 

But we can avail ourselves of another method. 
We can shape our investigation so as to ascertain 
whether a part of the assumptions which we have 
transferred from the neurosis to the taboo, or the 
conclusions at which we have thereby arrived can 
be demonstrated directly in the phenomena of 
taboo, We must decide, however, what we want 
to look for. The assertion concerning the gene- 
sis of taboo, namely, that it was derived from a 
primitive prohibition which was once imposed 
from without, cannot, of course, be proved. We 
shall therefore seek to confirm those psycholog- 


ical conditions for taboo with which we have 
become acquainted in the case of compulsion neu- 
rosis. How did we gain our knowledge of these 
psychological factors in the case of neurosis? 
Through the analytical study of the symptoms, 
especially the compulsive actions, the defense re- 
actions and the obsessive commands. These 
mechanisms gave every indication of having been 
derived from ambivalent impulses or tendencies, 
they either represented simultaneously the wish 
and counter-wish or they served preponderantly 
one of the two contrary tendencies. If we should 
now succeed in showing that ambivalence, i. e., the 
sway of contrary tendencies, exists also in the 
case of taboo regulations or if we should find 
among the taboo mechanisms some which like 
neurotic obsessions give simultaneous expression 
to both currents, we would have established what 
is practically the most important point in the 
psychological correspondence between taboo and 
compulsion neurosis. 

We have already mentioned that the two fun- 
damental taboo prohibitions are inaccessible to 
our analysis because they belong to totemism ; an- 
other part of the taboo rules is of secondary origin 
and cannot be used for our purpose. For among 
these races taboo has become the general form of 
law giving and has helped to promote social ten- 


dencies which are certainly younger than taboo 
itself, as for instance, the taboos imposed by 
chiefs and priests to insure their property and 
privileges. But there still remains a large group 
of laws which we may undertake to investigate. 
Among these I lay stress on those taboos which 
are attached a) to enemies, b) to chiefs, and c) 
to the dead ; the material for our investigation is 
taken from the excellent collection of J. G. 
Frazer in his great work, "The Golden 
Bough." 14 

a) the treatment of enemies 

Inclined as we may have been to ascribe to 
savage and semi-savage races uninhibited and re- 
morseless cruelty towards their enemies, it is of 
great interest to us to learn that with them, too, 
the killing of a person compels the observation of 
a series of rules which are associated with taboo 
customs. These rules are easily brought under 
four groups; they demand 1. reconciliation with 
the slain enemy, 2. restrictions, 3. acts of expia- 
tion, and purifications of the manslayer, and 4. 
certain ceremonial rites. The incomplete reports 
do not allow us to decide with certainty how gen- 
eral or how isolated such taboo customs may be 

i* Third Edition, Part II, "Taboo and the Perils of the Soul," 


among these races, but this is a matter of indiffer- 
ence as far as our interest in these occurrences is 
concerned. Still, it may be assumed that we are 
dealing with widespread customs and not with 
isolated peculiarities. 

The reconciliation customs practiced on the 
island of Timor, after a victorious band of war- 
riors has returned with the severed heads of the 
vanquished enemy, are especially significant be- 
cause the leader of the expedition is subject to 
heavy additional restrictions. "At the solemn 
entry of the victors, sacrifices are made to con- 
ciliate the souls of the enemy; otherwise one 
would have to expect harm to come to the vic- 
tors. A dance is given and a song is sung in 
which the slain enemy is mourned and his for- 
giveness is implored: 'Be not angry,' they say, 
'because your head is here with us; had we been 
less lucky, our heads might have been exposed in 
your village. We have offered the sacrifice to 
appease you. Your spirit may now rest and 
leave us at peace. Why were you our enemy? 
Would it not have been better that we should re- 
main friends? Then your blood would not have 
been spilt and your head would not have been 
cut off.' " 15 

Similar customs are found among the Palu in 
Celebes ; the Gallas sacrifice to the spirits of their 

is Frazer, 1. c. p. 166, 


dead enemies before they return to their home 
villages. 36 

Other races have found methods of making 
friends, guardians and protectors out of their for- 
mer enemies after they are dead. This consists 
in the tender treatment of the severed heads, of 
which many wild tribes of Borneo boast. When 
the See-Dayaks of Sarawak bring home a head 
from a war expedition, they treat it for months 
with the greatest kindness and courtesy and ad- 
dress it with the most endearing names in their 
language. The best morsels from their meals are 
put into its mouth, together with titbits and 
cigars. The dead enemy is repeatedly entreated 
to hate his former friends and to bestow his love 
upon his new hosts because he has now become 
one of them. It would be a great mistake to 
think that any derision is attached to this treat- 
ment, horrible though it may seem to us. 17 

Observers have been struck by the mourning 
for the enemy after he is slain and scalped, among 
several of the wild tribes of North America. 
When a Choctaw had killed an enemy he began a 
month's mourning during which he submitted 
himself to serious restrictions. The Dakota In- 
dians mourned in the same way. One authority 

16 Paulitschke, "Ethnography of Northeast Africa." 
i^Frazer, "Adonis, Attis, Osiris," p. 248, 1907. According to 
Hugh Low, Sarawak, London, 1848. 


mentions that the Osaga Indians after mourning 
for their own dead mourned for their foes as if 
they had been friends. 18 * 

Before proceeding to the other classes of taboo 
customs for the treatment of enemies, we must 
define our position in regard to a pertinent objec- 
tion. Both Frazer as well as other authorities 
may well be quoted against us to show that the 
motive for these rules of reconciliation is quite 
simple and has nothing to do with "ambivalence." 
These races are dominated by a superstitious fear 
of the spirits of the slain, a fear which was also 
familiar to classical antiquity, and which the 
great British dramatist brought upon the stage 
in the hallucinations of Macbeth and Richard the 
Third. From this superstition all the reconcilia- 
tion rules as well as the restrictions and expia- 
tions which we shall discuss later can be logically 
deduced; moreover, the ceremonies included in 
the fourth group also argue for this interpreta- 
tion, since the only explanation of which they 
admit is the effort to drive away the spirits of the 
slain which pursue the manslayers. 19 Besides, 
the savages themselves directly admit their fear 
of the spirits of their slain foes and trace back 
the taboo customs under discussion to this fear. 

is J. O. Dorsay, see Frazer, "Toboo, etc.," p. 181. 

19 Frazer, "Taboo," p. 166 to 174. These ceremonies consist of 
hitting shields, shouting, bellowing and making noises with various 
instruments, etc. 


This objection is certainly pertinent and if it 
were adequate as well we would gladly spare our- 
selves the trouble of our attempt to find a further 
explanation. We postpone the consideration of 
this objection until later and for the present 
merely contrast it to the interpretation derived 
from our previous discussion of taboo. All these 
rules of taboo lead us to conclude that other im- 
pulses besides those that are merely hostile find 
expression in the behavior towards enemies. We 
see in them manifestations of repentance, of re- 
gard for the enemy, and of a bad conscience 
for having slain him. It seems that the com- 
mandment, Thou shalt not slay, which could 
not be violated without punishment, existed 
also among these savages, long before any 
legislation was received from the hands of a 

We now return to the remaining classes of 
taboo rules. The restrictions laid upon the vic- 
torious manslayer are unusually frequent and 
are mostly of a serious nature. In Timor (com- 
pare the reconciliation customs mentioned above) 
the leader of the expedition cannot return to his 
house under any circumstances. A special hut 
is erected for him in which he spends two months 
engaged in the observance of various rules of 
purification. During this period he may not see 
his wife or nourish himself; another person must 


put his food into his mouth. 20 Among some 
Dayak tribes warriors returning from a success- 
ful expedition must remain sequestered for sev- 
eral days and abstain from certain foods; they 
may not touch iron and must remain away from 
their wives. In Logea, an island near New; 
Guinea, men who have killed an enemy or have 
taken part in the killing, lock themselves up in 
their houses for a week. They avoid every inter- 
course with their wives and friends, they do not 
touch their victuals with their hands and live on 
nothing but vegetable foods which are cooked 
for them in special dishes. As a reason for this 
last restriction it is alleged that they must smell 
the blood of the slain, otherwise they would sicken 
and die. Among the Toaripi- or Motumotu- 
tribes in New Guinea a manslayer must not ap- 
proach his wife and must not touch his food with 
his fingers. A second person must feed him with 
special food. This continues until the next new 

I avoid the complete enumeration of all the 
cases of restrictions of the victorious slayer men- 
tioned by Frazer, and emphasize only such cases 
in which the character of taboo is especially no- 
ticeable or where the restriction appears in con- 

20 Frazer, "Taboo," p. 166, according to S. Mueller, "Reisen en 
Onderzoekingen in den Indischen Archipel," Amsterdam, 1857. 


nection with expiation, purification and cere- 

Among the Monumbos in German New 
Guinea a man who has killed an enemy in combat 
becomes "unclean," the same word being em- 
ployed which is applied to women during men- 
struation or confinement. For a considerable 
period he is not allowed to leave the men's club- 
house, while the inhabitants of his village gather 
about him and celebrate his victory with songs 
and dances. He must not touch any one, not 
even his wife and children ; if he did so they would 
be afflicted with boils. He finally becomes clean 
through washing and other ceremonies. 

Among the Natchez in North America young 
warriors who had procured their first scalp were 
bound for six months to the observance of certain 
renunciations. They were not allowed to sleep 
with their wives or to eat meat, and received only 
fish and maize pudding as nourishment. When a 
Choctaw had killed and scalped an enemy he 
began a period of mourning for one month, dur- 
ing which he was not allowed to comb his hair. 
When his head itched he was not allowed to 
scratch it with his hand but used a small stick for 
this purpose. 

After a Pima Indian had killed an Apache he 
had to submit himself to severe ceremonies of 


purification and expiation. During a fasting 
period of sixteen days he was not allowed to touch 
meat or salt, to look at a fire or to speak to any 
one. He lived alone in the woods, where he was 
waited upon by an old woman who brought him a 
small allowance of food; he often bathed in the 
nearest river, and carried a lump of clay on his 
head as a sign of mourning. On the seventeenth 
day there took place a public ceremony through 
which he and his weapons were solemnly purified. 
As the Pima Indians took the manslayer taboo 
much more seriously than their enemies and, un- 
like them, did not postpone expiation and purifi- 
cation until the end of the expedition, their 
prowess in war suffered very much through their 
moral severity or what might be called their piety. 
In spite of their extraordinary bravery they 
proved to be unsatisfactory allies to the Ameri- 
cans in their wars against the Apaches. 

The detail and variations of these expiatory 
and purifying ceremonies after the killing of an 
enemy would be most interesting for purposes of 
a more searching study but I need not enumerate 
any more of them here because they cannot fur- 
nish us with any new points of view. I might 
mention that the temporary or permanent isola- 
tion of the professional executioner, which was 
maintained up to our time, is a case in point. 
The position of the "free-holder" in mediaeval 


society really conveys a good idea of the "taboo" 
of savages. 21 

The current explanation of all these rules of 
reconciliation, restriction, expiation and purifica- 
tion, combines two principles, namely, the exten- 
sion of the taboo of the dead to everything that 
has come into contact with him, and the fear of 
the spirit of the slain. In what combination 
these two elements are to explain the ceremonial, 
whether they are to be considered as of equal 
value or whether one of them is primary and the 
other secondary, and which one, is nowhere stated, 
nor would this be an easy matter to decide. In 
contradistinction to all this we emphasize the 
unity which our interpretation gains by deducing 
all these rules from the ambivalence of the emo- 
tion of savages towards their enemies. 

b) the taboo of rulers 

The behavior of primitive races towards their 
chiefs, kings, and priests, is controlled by two 
principles which seem rather to supplement than 
to contradict each other. They must both be 
guarded and be guarded against. 22 

Both objects are accomplished through in- 
numerable rules of taboo. Why one must guard 

21 For these examples see Frazer, "Taboo," p. 165-170, "Man- 
slayers Tabooed." 

22 Frazer, "Taboo," p. 132. "He must not only be guarded, he 
must also be guarded against." 


against rulers is already known to us; because 
they are the bearers of that mysterious and dan- 
gerous magic power which communicates itself 
by contact, like an electric charge, bringing death 
and destruction to any one not protected by a 
similar charge. All direct or indirect contact 
with this dangerous sacredness is therefore 
avoided, and where it cannot be avoided a cere- 
monial has been found to ward off the dreaded 
consequences. The Nubas in East Africa, for 
instance, believe that they must die if they enter 
the house of their priest-king, but that they 
escape this danger if, on entering, they bare the 
left shoulder and induce the king to touch it with 
his hand. Thus we have the remarkable case of 
the king's touch becoming the healing and protec- 
tive measure against the very dangers that arise 
from contact with the king; but it is probably a 
question of the healing power of the intentional 
touching on the king's part in contradistinction 
to the danger of touching him, in other words, of 
the opposition between passivity and activity 
towards the king. 

Where the healing power of the royal touch is 
concerned we do not have to look for examples 
among savages. In comparatively recent times 
the kings of England exercised this power upon 
scrofula, whence it was called "The King's Evil." 
Neither Queen Elizabeth nor any of her sue- 


cessors renounced this part of the royal preroga- 
tive. Charles I is said to have healed a hundred 
sufferers at one time, in the year 1633. Under 
his dissolute son Charles II, after the great 
English revolution had passed, royal healings of 
scrofula attained their greatest vogue. 

This king is said to have touched close to a 
hundred thousand victims of scrofula in the 
course of his reign. The crush of those seeking 
to be cured used to be so great that on one occa- 
sion six or seven patients suffered death by suffo- 
cation instead of being healed. The skeptical 
king of Orange, William III, who became king 
of England after the banishment of the Stuarts, 
refused to exercise the spell; on the one occasion 
when he consented to practice the touch, he did 
so with the words: "May God give you better 
health and more sense." 23 

The following account will bear witness to the 
terrible effect of touching by virtue of which a 
person, even though unintentionally, becomes 
active against his king or against what belongs to 
him. A chief of high rank and great holiness in 
New Zealand happened to leave the remains of 
his meal by the roadside. A young slave came 
along, a strong, healthy fellow, who saw what 
was left over and started to eat it. Hardly had 
he finished when a horrified spectator informed 

23 Frazer, The Magic Art I, p. 368. 


him of his offense in eating the meal of the chief. 
The man had been a strong, brave, warrior, but 
as soon as he heard this he collapsed and was 
afflicted by terrible convulsions, from which he 
died towards sunset of the following day. 24 i\! 
Maori woman ate a certain fruit and then learned 
that it came from a place on which there was a 
taboo. She cried out that the spirit of the chief 
whom she had thus offended would surely kill 
her. This incident occurred in the afternoon and 
on the next day at twelve o'clock she was dead. 25 
The tinder box of a Maori chief once cost several 
persons their lives. The chief had lost it and 
those who found it used it to light their pipes. 
When they learned whose property the tinder 
box was they all died of fright. 26 

It is hardly astonishing that the need was felt 
to isolate dangerous persons like chiefs and 
priests, by building a wall around them which 
made them inaccessible to others. We surmise 
that this wall, which originally was constructed 
out of taboo rules, still exists to-day in the form 
of court ceremony. 

But probably the greater part of this taboo of 
the rulers cannot be traced back to the need of 

24 "Old New Zealand," by a Pakeha Maori (London, 1884), see 
Frazer, "Taboo," p. 135. 

25 w. Brown, "New Zealand and Its Aborigines" (London, 
1845), Frazer, ibid. 

26 Frazer, 1. c. 


guarding against them. The other point of view 
in the treatment of privileged persons, the need 
of guarding them from dangers with which they 
are threatened, has had a distinct share in the 
creation of taboo and therefore of the origin of 
court etiquette. 

The necessity of guarding the king from every 
conceivable danger arises from his great impor- 
tance for the weal and woe of his subjects. 
Strictly speaking, he is a person who regulates 
the course of the world; his people have to thank 
him not only for rain and sunshine, which allow 
the fruits of the earth to grow, but also for the 
wind which brings the ships to their shores and for 
the solid ground on which they set their feet. 27 

These savage kings are endowed with a wealth 
of power and an ability to bestow happiness 
which only gods possess; certainly in later 
stages of civilization none but the most servile 
courtiers would play the hypocrite to the extent 
of crediting their sovereigns with the possession 
of attributes similar to these. 

It seems like an obvious contradiction that per- 
sons of such perfection of power should them- 
selves require the greatest care to guard them 
against threatening dangers, but this is not the 
only contradiction revealed in the treatment of 
royal persons on the part of savages. These 

27 Frazer, "Taboo." "The Burden of Royalty," p. 7. 


races consider it necessary to watch over their 
kings to see that they use their powers in the right 
way ; they are by no means sure of their good in- 
tentions or of their conscientiousness. A strain 
of mistrust is mingled with the motivation of the 
taboo rules for the king. "The idea that early 
kingdoms are despotisms," says Frazer, 28 "in 
which the people exist only for the sovereign, is 
wholly inapplicable to the monarchies we are con- 
sidering. On the contrary, the sovereign in them 
exists only for his subjects; his life is only valu- 
able so long as he discharges the duties of his 
position by ordering the course of nature for his 
people's benefit. So soon as he fails to do so, 
the care, the devotion, the religious homage which 
they had hitherto lavished on him cease and are 
changed into hatred and contempt; he is igno- 
miniously dismissed and may be thankful if he 
escapes with his life. Worshiped as a god one 
day, he is killed as a criminal the next. But in 
this changed behavior of the people there is noth- 
ing capricious or inconsistent. On the contrary, 
their conduct is quite consistent. If their king 
is their god he is, or should be, also their pre- 
server; and if he will not preserve them he must 
make room for another who will. So long, how- 
ever, as he answers their expectations, there is no 
limit to the care which they take of him, and which 

28 1. C, p. 7. 


they compel him to take of himself. A king of 
this sort lives hedged in by ceremonious etiquette, 
a network of prohibitions and observances, of 
which the intention is not to contribute to his dig- 
nitv, much less to his comfort, but to restrain him 
from conduct which, by disturbing the harmony 
of nature, might involve himself, his people, and 
the universe in one common catastrophe. Far 
from adding to his comfort, these observances, 
by trammeling his every act, annihilate his free- 
dom and often render the very life, which it is 
their object to preserve, a burden and sorrow to 

One of the most glaring examples of thus fet- 
tering and paralyzing a holy ruler through taboo 
ceremonial seems to have been reached in the life 
routine of the Mikado of Japan, as it existed in 
earlier centuries. A description which is now over 
two hundred years old 29 relates: "He thinks 
that it would be very prejudicial to his dignity 
and holiness to touch the ground with his feet; 
for this reason when he intends to go anywhere, 
he must be carried thither on men's shoulders. 
Much less will they suffer that he should expose 
his sacred person to the open air, and the sun is 
not thought worthy to shine on his head. There 
is such a holiness ascribed to all the parts of his 
bodv that he dares to cut off neither his hair, 

2» Kaempfer, "History of Japan," see in Frazer, 1. c., p. 3. 


nor his beard, nor his nails. However, lest he 
should grow too dirty, they may clean him in the 
night when he is asleep; because they say that 
what is taken from his body at that time, hath 
been stolen from him, and that such a theft does 
not prejudice his holiness or dignity. In ancient 
times, he was obliged to sit on the throne for some 
hours every morning, with the imperial crown on 
his head; but to sit altogether like a statue with- 
out stirring either hands or feet, head or eyes, nor 
indeed any part of his body, because by this 
means, it was thought that he could preserve 
peace and tranquility in his empire; for if un- 
fortunately, he turned himself on one side or 
other, or if he looked a good while towards any 
part of his dominion, it was apprehended that 
war, famine, fire or some other great misfortune 
was near at hand to desolate the country." 

Some of the taboos to which barbarian kings 
are subject vividly recall the restrictions placed 
on murderers. On Shark Point at Cape Padron 
in Lower Guinea (West Africa), a priest-king 
called Kukulu lives alone in a woods. He is not 
allowed to touch a woman or to leave his house 
and cannot even rise out of his chair, in which he 
must sleep in a sitting position. If he should lie 
down the wind would cease and shipping would 
be disturbed. It is his function to keep storms in 
check and, in general, to see to an even, healthy 


condition of the atmosphere. 30 The more pow- 
erful a king of Loango is, says Bastian, the more 
taboos he must observe. The heir to the throne 
is also bound to them from childhood on; they 
accumulate about him while he is growing up, and 
by the time of his accession he is suffocated by 

Our interest in the matter does not require us 
to take up more space to describe more fully the 
taboos that cling to royal and priestly dignity. 
We merely add that restrictions as to freedom of 
movement and diet play the main role among 
them. But two examples of taboo ceremonial 
taken from civilized nations, and therefore from 
much higher stages of culture, will indicate to 
what an extent association with these privileged 
persons tends to preserve ancient customs. 

The Flamen Dialis, the high-priest of Jupiter 
in Rome, had to observe an extraordinarily large 
number of taboo rules. He was not allowed to 
ride, to see a horse or an armed man, to wear a 
ring that was not broken, to have a knot in his 
garments, to touch wheat flour or leaven, or even 
to mention by name a goat, a dog, raw meat, 
beans and ivy ; his hair could only be cut by a free 
man and with a bronze knife, his hair combings 
and nail parings had to be buried under a lucky 

so Bastian, "The German Expedition to the Coast of Loango." 
Jena 1874, cited by Frazer, 1. c, p. 5, 


tree; he could not touch the dead, go into the 
open with bare head, and similar prohibitions. 
His wife, the Flaminica, also had her own pro- 
hibitions: she was not allowed to ascend more 
than three steps on a certain kind of stairs and 
on certain holidays she could not comb her hair; 
the leather for her shoes could not be taken from 
any animal that had died a natural death but only 
from one that had been slaughtered or sacrificed ; 
when she heard thunder she was unclean until she 
had made an expiatory sacrifice. 31 

The old kings of Ireland were subject to a 
series of very curious restrictions, the observance 
of which was expected to bring every blessing to 
the country while their violation entailed every 
form of evil. The complete description of these 
taboos is given in the Book of Rights, of which 
the oldest manuscript copies bear the dates 1390 
and 1418. The prohibitions are very detailed 
and concern certain activities at specified places 
and times; in some cities, for instance, the king 
cannot stay on a certain day of the week, while 
at some specified hour this or that river may not 
be crossed, or again there is a plane on which he 
cannot camp a full nine days, etc. 32 

Among many savage races the severity of the 
taboo restrictions for the priest-kings has had re- 
sults of historic importance which are especially 

3i Frazer, 1. c, p. 13. 32 Frazer, I.e., p. 11. 


interesting from our point of view. The honor 
of being a priest-king ceased to be desirable; the 
person in line for the succession often used every 
means to escape it. Thus in Combodscha, where 
there is a fire and water king, it is often necessary 
to use force to compel the successor to accept the 
honor. On Nine or Savage Island, a coral 
island in the Pacific Ocean, monarchy actually 
came to an end because nobody was willing to un- 
dertake the responsible and dangerous office. In 
some parts of West Africa a general council is 
held after the death of the king to determine upon 
the successor. The man on whom the choice 
falls is seized, tied and kept in custody in the 
fetich house until he has declared himself willing 
to accept the crown. Sometimes the presump- 
tive successor to the throne finds ways and means 
to avoid the intended honor ; thus it is related of 
a certain chief that he used to go armed day and 
night and resist by force every attempt to place 
him on the throne. 33 Among the negroes of 
Sierra Leone the resistance against accepting the 
kingly honor was so great that most of the tribes 
were compelled to make strangers their kings. 

Frazer makes these conditions responsible for 
the fact that in the development of history a sep- 
aration of the original priest-kingship into a spir- 

33 A. Bastian, "The German Expedition on the Coast of 
Lonago," cited by Frazer, 1. e., p. 18. 


itual and a secular power finally took place. 
Kings, crushed by the burden of their holiness, 
became incapable of exercising their power over 
real things and had to leave this to inferior but 
executive persons who were willing to renounce 
the honors of royal dignity. From these there 
grew up the secular rulers, while the spiritual 
over-lordship, which was now of no practical im- 
portance, was left to the former taboo kings. It 
is well known to what extent this hypothesis finds 
confirmation in the history of old Japan. 

A survey of the picture of the relations of 
primitive peoples to their rulers gives rise to the 
expectation that our advance from description 
to psychoanalytic understanding will not be 
difficult. These relations are of an involved 
nature and are not free from contradictions. 
Rulers are granted great privileges which are 
practically cancelled by taboo prohibitions in 
regard to other privileges. They are privileged 
persons, they can do or enjoy what is withheld 
from the rest through taboo. But in contrast 
to this freedom they are restricted by other taboos 
which do not affect the ordinary individual. 
Here, therefore, is the first contrast, which 
amounts almost to a contradiction, between an 
excess of freedom and an excess of restriction as 
applied to the same persons. They are credited 
with extraordinary magic powers and contact 


with their person or their property is therefore 
feared, while on the other hand the most bene- 
flcial effect is expected from these contacts. 
This seems to be a second and an especially glar- 
ing contradiction; but we have already learned 
that it is only apparent. The king's touch, exer- 
cised by him with benevolent intention, heals and 
protects ; it is only when a common man touches 
the king or his royal effects that the contact be- 
comes dangerous, and this is probably because 
the act may recall aggressive tendencies. An- 
other contradiction which is not so easily solved 
is expressed in the fact that great power over the 
processes of nature is ascribed to the ruler and 
yet the obligation is felt to guard him with espe- 
cial care against threatening dangers, as if his 
own power, which can do so much, were incapa- 
ble of accomplishing this. A further difficulty 
in the relation arises because there is no confi- 
dence that the ruler will use his tremendous 
power to the advantage of his subjects as well 
as for his own protection; he is therefore dis- 
trusted and surveillance over him is considered to 
be justified. The taboo etiquette, to which the 
life of the king is subject, simultaneously serves 
all these objects of exercising a tutelage over the 
king, of guarding him against dangers, and of 
guarding his subjects against danger which he 
brings to them. 


We are inclined to give the following explana- 
tion of the complicated and contradictory rela- 
tion of primitive peoples to their rulers. 
Through superstition as well as through other 
motives, various tendencies find expression in 
the treatment of kings, each of which is devel- 
oped to the extreme without regard to the others. 
As a result of this, contradictions arise at which 
the intellect of savages takes no more offense 
than a highly civilized person would, as long as 
it is only a question of religious matters or of 

That would be so far so good ; but the psycho- 
analytic technique may enable us to penetrate 
more deeply into the matter and to add some- 
thing about the nature of these various tenden- 
cies. If we subject the facts as stated to analy- 
sis, just as if they formed the symptoms of a 
neurosis, our first attention would be directed 
to the excess of anxious worry which is said to be 
the cause of the taboo ceremonial. The occur- 
rence of such excessive tenderness is very com- 
mon in the neurosis and especially in the 
compulsion neurosis upon which we are draw- 
ing primarily for our comparison. We now 
thoroughly understand the origin of this tender- 
ness. It occurs wherever, besides the predomi- 
nant tenderness, there exists a contrary but un- 
conscious stream of hostility, that is to say, wher- 


ever the typical case of an ambivalent affective 
attitude is realized. The hostility is then cried 
down by an excessive increase of tenderness 
which is expressed as anxiety and becomes com- 
pulsive because otherwise it would not suffice for 
its task of keeping the unconscious opposition 
in a state of repression. Every psychoanalyst 
knows how infallibly this anxious excess of ten- 
derness can be resolved even under the most im- 
probable circumstances, as for instance, when it 
appears between mother and child, or in the case 
of affectionate married people. Applied to the 
treatment of privileged persons this theory of an 
ambivalent feeling would reveal that their ven- 
eration, their very deification, is opposed in the 
unconscious by an intense hostile tendency, so 
that, as we had expected, the situation of an 
ambivalent feeling is here realized. The dis- 
trust which certainly seems to contribute to the 
motivation of the royal taboo, would be another 
direct manifestation of the same unconscious hos- 
tility. Indeed the ultimate issues of this con- 
flict show such a diversity among different races 
that we would not be at a loss for examples in 
which the proof of such hostility would be much 
easier. We learn from Frazer 34 that the savage 
Timmes of Sierra Leona reserve the right to ad- 

3*1. c. p. 18. According to Zwefel et Monstier, "Voyage aux 
Sources du Niger," 1880. 


minister a beating to their elected king on the 
evening before his coronation, and that they 
make use of this constitutional right with such 
thoroughness that the unhappy ruler sometimes 
does not long survive his accession to the throne ; 
for this reason the leaders of the race have made 
it a rule to elect some man against whom they 
have a particular grudge. Nevertheless, even in 
such glaring cases the hostility is not acknowl- 
edged as such, but is expressed as if it were a 

Another trait in the attitude of primitive races 
towards their rulers recalls a mechanism which is 
universally present in mental disturbances, and 
is openly revealed in the so-called delusions of 
persecution. Here the importance of a particu- 
lar person is extraordinarily heightened and his 
omnipotence is raised to the improbable in order 
to make it easier to attribute to him the responsi- 
bility for everything painful which happens to 
the patient. Savages really do not act differ- 
ently towards their rulers when they ascribe to 
them power over rain and shine, wind and 
weather, and then dethrone or kill them because 
nature has disappointed their expectation of a 
good hunt or a ripe harvest. The prototype 
which the paranoiac reconstructs in his persecu- 
tion mania, is found in the relation of the child 
to its father. Such omnipotence is regularly at- 


tributed to the father in the imagination of the 
son, and distrust of the father has been shown 
to be intimately connected with the highest es- 
teem for him. When a paranoiac names a per- 
son of his acquaintance as his "persecutor," he 
thereby elevates him to the paternal succession 
and brings him under conditions which enable him 
to make him responsible for all the misfortune 
which he experiences. Thus this second analogy 
between the savage and the neurotic may allow 
us to surmise how much in the relation of the sav- 
age to his ruler arises from the infantile attitude 
of the child to its father. 

But the strongest support for our point of 
view, which seeks to compare taboo prohibitions 
with neurotic symptoms, is to be found in the 
taboo ceremonial itself, the significance of which 
for the status of kinship has already been the sub- 
ject of our previous discussion. This ceremonial 
unmistakabfy reveals its double meaning and its 
origin from ambivalent tendencies if only we are 
willing to assume that the effects it produces are 
those which it intended from the very beginning. 
It not only distinguishes kings and elevates them 
above all ordinary mortals, but it also makes 
their life a torture and an unbearable burden and 
forces them into a thraldom which is far worse 
than that of their subjects. It would thus be 
the correct counterpart to the compulsive ac- 


tion of the neurosis, in which the suppressed im- 
pulse and the impulse which suppreses it meet 
in mutual and simultaneous satisfaction. The 
compulsive action is nominally a protection 
against the forbidden action; but we would say 
that actually it is a repetition of what is for- 
bidden. The word "nominally" is here applied 
to the conscious whereas the word "actually" 
applies to the unconscious instance of the psychic 
life. Thus also the taboo ceremonial of kings 
is nominally an expression of the highest venera- 
tion and a means of guarding them; actually it 
is the punishment for their elevation, the revenge 
which their subjects take upon them. The ex- 
periences which Cervantes makes Sancho Panza 
undergo as governor on his island have evidently 
made him recognize this interpretation of courtly 
ceremonial as the only correct one. It is very 
possible that this point would be corroborated if 
we could induce kings and rulers of to-day to 
express themselves on this point. 

Why the emotional attitude towards rulers 
should contain such a strong unconscious share of 
hostility is a very interesting problem which, how- 
ever, exceeds the scope of this book. We have 
already referred to the infantile father-complex; 
we may add that an investigation of the early 
history of kingship would bring the decisive ex- 
planations. Frazer has an impressive discus- 



sion of the theory that the first kings were 
strangers who, after a short reign, were destined 
to be sacrificed at solemn festivals as representa- 
tives of the deity; but Frazer himself does not 
consider his facts altogether convincing. 35 
Christian myths are said to have been still in- 
fluenced by the after-effects of this evolution of 


We know that the dead are mighty rulers : we 
may be surprised to learn that they are regarded 
as enemies. 

Among most primitive people the taboo of the 
dead displays, if we may keep to our infection 
analogy, a peculiar virulence. It manifests it- 
self in the first place, in the consequences which 
result from contact with the dead, and in the 
treatment of the mourners for the dead. Among 
the Maori any one who had touched a corpse or 
who had taken part in its interment, became ex- 
tremely unclean and was almost cut off from in- 
tercourse with his fellow beings; he was, as we 
say, boycotted. He could not enter a house, or 
approach persons or objects without infecting 
them with the same properties. He could not 
even touch his food with his own hands, which 

85 Frazer, "The Magic Act and the Evolution of Kings," 2 vols., 
1W1. (The Golden Bough.) 


were now unclean and therefore quite useless to 
him. His food was put on the ground and he 
had no alternative except to seize it as best he 
could, with his lips and teeth, while he held his 
hands behind on his back. Occasionally he could 
be fed by another person who helped him to his 
food with outstretched arms so as not to touch the 
unfortunate one himself, but this assistant was 
then in turn subjected to almost equally oppres- 
sive restrictions. Almost every village con- 
tained some altogether disreputable individual, 
ostracised by society, whose wretched existence 
depended upon people's charity. This creature 
alone was allowed within arm's length of a per- 
son who had fulfilled the last duty towards the 
deceased. But as soon as the period of segrega- 
tion was over and the person rendered unclean 
through the corpse could again mingle with his 
fellow-beings, all the dishes which he had used 
during the dangerous period were broken and all 
his clothing was thrown away. 

The taboo customs after bodily contact with 
the dead are the same all over Polynesia, in 
Melanesia, and in a part of Africa; their most 
constant feature is the prohibition against han- 
dling one's food and the consequent necessity of 
being fed by somebody else. It is noteworthy 
that in Polynesia, or perhaps only in Hawaii, 36 

«6 Frazer, "Taboo," p. 138, etc. 


priest-kings were subject to the same restrictions 
during the exercise of holy functions. In the 
taboo of the dead on the Island of Tonga the 
abatement and gradual abolition of the prohibi- 
tions through the individual's own taboo power 
are clearly shown. A person who touched the 
corpse of a dead chieftain was unclean for ten 
months ; but if he was himself a chief, he was un- 
clean for only three, four, or five months, accord- 
ing to the rank of the deceased; if it was the 
corpse of the idolized head-chief even the greatest 
chiefs became taboo for ten months. These sav- 
ages are so certain that any one who violates these 
taboo rules must become seriously ill and die, that 
according to the opinion of an observer, they have 
never yet dared to convince themselves of the con- 
trary. 37 

The taboo restrictions imposed upon persons 
whose contact with the dead is to be understood 
in the transferred sense, namely the mourning 
relatives such as widows and widowers, are es- 
sentially the same as those mentioned above, but 
they are of greater interest for the point we are 
trying to make. In the rules hitherto men- 
tioned we see only the typical expression of the 
virulence and power of diffusion of the taboo; 
in those about to be cited we catch a gleam of 

37 W. Mariner, "The Natives of the Tonga Islands," 1818, see 
Frazer, 1. c., p. 140. 


the motives, including both the ostensible ones 
and those which may be regarded as the underly- 
ing and genuine motives. 

Among the Shuswap in British-Columbia wid- 
ows and widowers have to remain segregated dur- 
ing their period of mourning; they must not use 
their hands to touch the body or the head and 
all utensils used by them must not be used by 
any one else. No hunter will want to approach 
the hut in which such mourners live, for that 
would bring misfortune; if the shadow of one 
of the mourners should fall on him he would be- 
come ill. The mourners sleep on thorn bushes, 
with which they also surround their beds. This 
last precaution is meant to keep off the spirit 
of the deceased; plainer still is the reported 
custom of other North American tribes where 
the widow, after the death of her husband, has 
to wear a kind of trousers of dried grass in or- 
der to make herself inaccessible to the approach 
of the spirit. Thus it is quite obvious that touch- 
ing "in the transferred sense" is after all un- 
derstood only as bodily contact, since the spirit 
of the deceased does not leave his kin and does 
not desist from "hovering about them" during 
the period of mourning. 

Among the Agutainos, who live on Palawan, 
one of the Philippine Islands, a widow may not 
leave her hut for the first seven or eight days 


after her husband's death, except at night, when 
she need not expect encounters. Whoever sees 
her is in danger of immediate death and there- 
fore she herself warns others of her approach by 
hitting the trees with a wooden stick with every 
step she takes; these trees all wither. Another 
observation explains the nature of the danger in- 
herent in a widow. In the district of Mekeo, 
British New Guinea, a widower forfeits all civil 
rights and lives like an outlaw. He may not tend 
a garden, or show himself in public, or enter the 
village or go on the street. He slinks about like 
an animal, in the high grass or in the bushes, and 
must hide in a thicket if he sees anybody, espe- 
cially a woman, approaching. This last hint 
makes it easy for us to trace back the danger of 
the widower or widow to the danger of tempta- 
tion. The husband who has lost his wife must 
evade the desire for a substitute; the widow has 
to contend with the same wish and beside this, she 
may arouse the desire of other men because she 
is without a master. Every such satisfaction 
through a substitute runs contrary to the inten- 
tion of mourning and would cause the anger of 
the spirit to flare up. 38 

ss The same patient whose "impossibilities" I have correlated 
with taboo, (see above, p. 47) acknowledged that she always 
became indignant when she met anybody on the street who was 
dressed in mourning. "Such people should be forbidden to go 
out!" she said. 


One of the most surprising, but at the same 
time one of the most instructive taboo customs 
of mourning among primitive races is the prohi- 
bition against pronouncing the name of the de- 
ceased. This is very widespread, and has been 
subjected to many modifications with important 

Aside from the Australians and the Polvnes- 
ians, who usually show us taboo customs in their 
best state of preservation, we also find this pro- 
hibition among races so far apart and unrelated 
to each other as the Samojedes in Siberia and 
the Todas in South India, the Mongolians of 
Tartary and the TuaregSLof -the . Sahara, the Aino 
of Japan and the Akamba and Nandi in Central 
Africa, the Tinguanes in the Philippines and the 
inhabitants of the Nikobari Islands and of Mada- 
gascar and Borneo. 39 Among some of these 
races the prohibition and its consequences hold 
good only for the period of mourning while in 
others it remains permanent; but in all cases it 
seems to diminish with the lapse of time after the 

The avoidance of the name of the deceased is 
as a rule kept up with extraordinary severity. 
Thus, among many South American tribes, it is 
considered the gravest insult to the survivors to 
pronounce the name of the deceased in their pres- 

89 Frazer, 1. c, p. 353. 


ence, and the penalty set for it is no less than 
that for the slaying itself. 40 At first it is not easy 
to guess why the mention of the name should be 
so abominated, but the dangers associated with 
it have called into being a whole series of inter- 
esting and important expedients to avoid this. 
Thus the Masai in Africa have hit upon the eva- 
sion of changing the name of the deceased imme- 
diately upon his death; he may now be men- 
tioned without dread by this new name, while all 
the prohibitions remain attached to the old name. 
It seems to be assumed that the ghost does not 
know his new name and will not find it out. The 
Australian tribes on Adelaide and Encounter 
Bay are so consistently cautious that when a 
death occurs almost every person who has the 
same name as the deceased or a very similar one, 
exchanges it for another. Sometimes by a fur- 
ther extension of the same idea as seen among 
several tribes in Victoria and in North America 
all the relatives of the deceased change their 
names regardless of whether their names resemble 
the name of the deceased in sound. Among the 
Guaycuru in Paraguay the chief used to give 
new names to all the members of the tribe, on 
such sad occasions, which they then remembered 
as if they had always had them. 43 

*o Frazer, 1. c, p. 352, etc. 

*i Frazer, 1. c, p. 357, according to an old Spanish observer, 


Furthermore, if the deceased had the same 
name as an animal or object, etc. some of the 
races just enumerated thought it necessary to 
give these animals and objects new names, in 
order not to be reminded of the deceased when 
they mentioned them. Through this there must 
have resulted a never ceasing change of vocabul- 
ary, which caused a good deal of difficulty for 
the missionaries, especially where the interdiction 
upon a name was permanent. In the seven years 
which the missionary Dobrizhofer spent among 
the Abipons in Paraguay, the name for jaguar 
was changed three times and the words for croco- 
dile, thorns and animal slaughter underwent a 
similar fate. 42 But the dread of pronouncing a 
name which has belonged to a deceased person 
extends also to the mention of everything in 
which the deceased had any part, and a further 
important result of this process of suppression is 
that these races have no tradition or any histor- 
ical reminiscences, so that we encounter the great- 
est difficulties in investigating their past history. 
Among a number of these primitive races com- 
pensating customs have also been established in 
order to re-awaken the names of the deceased 
after a long period of mourning; they are be- 
stowed upon children, who were regarded as re- 
incarnations of the dead. 

42 Frazer, 1. c, p. 360. 


The strangeness of this taboo on names dimin- 
ishes if we bear in mind that the savage looks 
upon his name as an essential part and an impor- 
tant possession of his personality, and that he 
ascribes the full significance of things to words. 
Our children do the same, as I have shown else- 
where, and therefore they are never satisfied with 
accepting a meaningless verbal similarity, but 
consistently conclude that when two things have 
identical names a deeper correspondence between 
them must exist. Numerous peculiarities of 
normal behavior may lead civilized man to con- 
clude that he too is not yet as far removed as he 
thinks from attributing the importance of things 
to mere names and feeling that his name has be- 
come peculiarly identified with his person. This 
is corroborated by psychoanalytic experiences, 
where there is much occasion to point out the im- 
portance of names in unconscious thought activ- 
ity. 43 As was to be expected, the compulsion 
neurotics behave just like savages in regard to 
names. They show the full "complex sensitive- 
ness" towards the utterance and hearing of spe- 
cial words (as do also other neurotics) and de- 
rive a good many, often serious, inhibitions from 
their treatment of their own name. One of these 
taboo patients, whom I knew, had adopted the 
avoidance of writing down her name for fear that 

*3 Stekel, Abraham. 


it might get into somebody's hands who thus 
would come into possession of a piece of her per- 
sonality. In her frenzied faithfulness, which 
she needed to protect herself against the tempta- 
tions of her phantasy, she had created for herself 
the commandment, "not to give away anything 
of her personality." To this belonged first of all 
her name, then by further application her hand- 
writing, so that she finally gave up writing. 

Thus it no longer seems strange to us that sav- 
ages should consider a dead person's name as a 
part of his personality and that it should be sub- 
jected to the same taboo as the deceased. Call- 
ing a dead person by name can also be traced back 
to contact with him, so that we can turn our at- 
tention to the more inclusive problem of why this 
contact is visited with such a severe taboo. 

The nearest explanation would point to the 
natural horror which a corpse inspires, especially 
in view of the changes so soon noticeable after 
death. Mourning for a dead person must also 
be considered as a sufficient motive for everything 
which has reference to him. But horror of the 
corpse evidently does not cover all the details of 
taboo rules, and mourning can never explain to 
us why the mention of the dead is a severe insult 
to his survivors. On the contrary, mourning 
loves to preoccupy itself with the deceased, to 
elaborate his memory, and preserve it for 


the longest possible time. Something besides 
mourning must be made responsible for the pecu- 
liarities of taboo customs, something which evi- 
dently serves a different purpose. It is this very 
taboo on names which reveals this still unknown 
motive, and if the customs did not tell us about 
it we would find it out from the statements of 
the mourning savages themselves. 

For they do not conceal the fact that they fear 
the presence and the return of the spirit of a 
dead person; they practice a host of ceremonies 
to keep him off and banish him. 44 They look 
upon the mention of his name as a conjuration 
which must result in his immediate presence. 45 
They therefore consistently do everything to 
avoid conjuring and awakening a dead person. 
They disguise themselves in order that the spirit 
may not recognize them, 46 they distort either his 
name or their own, and become infuriated when 
a ruthless stranger incites the spirit against his 
survivors by mentioning his name. We can 
hardly avoid the conclusion that they suffer, ac- 
cording to Wundt's expression, from the fear 
of "his soul now turned into a demon." 47 

44 Frazer, 1. c, p. 353, cites the Tuaregs of the Sahara as an 
example of such an acknowledgment. 

45 Perhaps this condition is to be added : as long as any part of 
his physical remains exist. Frazer, 1. c, p. 372. 

46 "On the Nikobar Islands," Frazer, 1. c, p. 382. 
*7 Wundt, "Religion and Myth," Vol. II, p. 49. 


With this understanding we approach Wundt's 
conception who, as we have heard, sees the nature 
of taboo in the fear of demons. 

The assumption which this theory makes, 
namely, that immediately after death the be- 
loved member of a family becomes a demon, from 
whom the survivors have nothing but hostility to 
expect, so that they must protect themselves by 
every means from his evil desires, is so peculiar 
that our first impulse is not to believe it. Yet 
almost all competent authors agree as to this in- 
terpretation of primitive races. Westermarck, 48 
who, in my opinion, gives altogether too little 
consideration to taboo, makes this statement: 
"On the whole facts lead me to conclude that the 
dead are more frequently regarded as enemies 
than as friends and that Jevons and Grant Allen 
are wrong in their assertion that it was formerly 
believed that the malevolence of the dead was as 
a rule directed only against strangers, while they 
were paternally concerned about the life and 

48 "The Origin and Development of Moral Conceptions," see sec- 
tion entitled "Attitude Towards the Dead," Vol. II, p. 424. Both 
the notes and the text show an abundance of corroborating, and 
often very characteristic testimony, e. g., the Maori believed that 
"the nearest and most beloved relatives changed their nature after 
death and bore ill-will even to their former favorites." The Aus- 
tral negroes believe that every dead person is for a long time 
malevolent; the closer the relationship the greater the fear. The 
Central Eskimos are dominated by the idea that the dead come to 
rest very late and that at first they are to be feared as mis- 
chievous spirits who frequently hover about the village to spread 
illness, death and other evils. (Boas.) 


welfare of their descendants and the members 
of their elan." 

R. Kleinpaul has written an impressive book 
in which he makes use of the remnants of the old 
belief in souls among civilized races to show the 
relation between the living and the dead. 49 Ac- 
cording to him too, this relation culminates in the 
conviction that the dead, thirsting for blood, 
draw the living after them. The living did not 
feel themselves safe from the persecutions of 
the dead until a body of water had been put 
between them. That is why it was preferred 
to bury the dead on islands or to bring them 
to the other side of a river, the expressions "here" 
and "beyond" originated in this way. Later 
moderation has restricted the malevolence of 
the dead to those categories where a peculiar 
right to feel rancor had to be admitted, such as 
the murdered who pursue their murderer as evil 
spirits, and those who, like brides, had died with 
their longings unsatisfied. Kleinpaul believes 
that originally, however, the dead were all vam- 
pires, who bore ill-will to the living, and strove 
to harm them and deprive them of life. It was 
the corpse that first furnished the conception of 
an evil spirit. 

The hypothesis that those whom we love best 

49 R. Kleinpaul: "The Living and the Dead in Folklore, Re- 
ligion and Myth," 1898. 


turn into demons after death obviously allows us 
to put a further question. What prompted 
primitive races to ascribe such a change of senti- 
ment to the beloved dead? Why did they make 
demons out of them? According to Wester- 
marck this question is easily answered. 50 "As 
death is usually considered the worst calamity 
that can overtake man, it is believed that the 
deceased are very dissatisfied with their lot. 
Primitive races believe that death comes only 
through being slain, whether by violence or by 
magic, and this is considered already sufficient 
reason for the soul to be vindictive and irritable. 
The soul presumably envies the living and longs 
for the company of its former kin ; we can there- 
fore understand that the soul should seek to kill 
them with diseases in order to be re-united with 
them. . . . 

"... A further explanation of the malevo- 
lence ascribed to souls lies in the instinctive fear 
of them, which is itself the result of the fear of 

Our study of psychoneurotic disturbances 
points to a more comprehensive explanation 
which includes that of Westermarck. 

When a wife loses her husband, or a daughter 
her mother, it not infrequently happens that the 
survivor is afflicted with tormenting scruples, 

bo 1. c, p. 426. 


called "obsessive reproaches" which raise the 
question whether she herself has not been guilty 
through carelessness or neglect, of the death of 
the beloved person. No recalling of the care 
with which she nursed the invalid, or direct refu- 
tation of the asserted guilt can put an end to 
the torture, which is the pathological expression 
of mourning and which in time slowly subsides. 
Psychoanalytic investigation of such cases has 
made us acquainted with the secret mainsprings 
of this affliction. We have ascertained that these 
obsessive reproaches are in a certain sense justi- 
fied and therefore are immune to refutation or 
objections. Not that the mourner has really 
been guilty of the death or that she has really 
been careless, as the obsessive reproach asserts; 
but still there was something in her, a wish of 
which she herself was unaware, which was not dis- 
pleased with the fact that death came, and which 
would have brought it about sooner had it been 
strong enough. The reproach now reacts 
against this unconscious wish after the death of 
the beloved person. Such hostility, hidden in 
the unconscious behind tender love, exists in al- 
most all cases of intensive emotional allegiance 
to a particular person, indeed it represents the 
classic case, the prototype of the ambivalence of 
human emotions. There is always more or less 
of this ambivalence in everybody's disposition; 


normally it is not strong enough to give rise to 
the obsessive reproaches we have described. 
But where there is abundant predisposition for 
it, it manifests itself in the relation to those we 
love most, precisely where you would least ex- 
pect it. The disposition to compulsion neurosis, 
which we have so often taken for comparison with 
taboo problems, is distinguished by a particularly 
high degree of this original ambivalence of emo- 

We now know how to explain the supposed 
demonism of recently departed souls and the 
necessity of being protected against their hostil- 
ity through taboo rules. By assuming a similar 
high degree of ambivalence in the emotional life 
of primitive races such as psychoanalysis ascribes 
to persons suffering from compulsion neurosis, 
it becomes comprehensible that the same kind of 
reaction against the hostility latent in the uncon- 
scious behind the obsessive reproaches of the 
neurotic should also be necessary here after the 
painful loss has occurred. But this hostility, 
which is painfully felt in the unconscious in the 
form of satisfaction with the demise, experiences 
a different fate in the case of primitive man: the 
defense against it is accomplished by displace- 
ment upon the object of hostility, namely the 
dead. We call this defense process, frequent 
both in normal and diseased psychic life, a pro- 


jection. The survivor will deny that he has ever 
entertained hostile impulses toward the beloved 
dead; but now the soul of the deceased enter- 
tains them and will try to give vent to them dur- 
ing the entire period of mourning. In spite of 
the successful defense through projection, the 
punitive and remorseful character of this emo- 
tional reaction manifests itself in being afraid, 
in self-imposed renunciations and in subjection 
to restrictions which are partly disguised as pro- 
tective measures against the hostile demon. 
Thus we rind again that taboo has grown out of 
the soil of an ambivalent emotional attitude. 
The taboo of the dead also originates from the 
opposition between the conscious grief and the 
unconscious satisfaction at death. If this is the 
origin of the resentment of spirits it is self-evi- 
dent that just the nearest and formerly most be- 
loved survivors have to fear it most. 

As in neurotic symptoms, the taboo regulations 
also evince opposite feelings. Their restrictive 
character expresses mourning, while they also 
betray very clearly what they are trying to con- 
ceal, namely, the hostility towards the dead, 
which is now motivated as self-defense. We 
have learnt to understand part of the taboo regu- 
lations as temptation fears. A dead person is 
defenseless, which must act as an incitement to 
satisfy hostile desires entertained against him; 


this temptation has to be opposed by the prohi- 

But Westermarck is right in not admitting any 
difference in the savage's conception between 
those who have died by violence and those who 
have died a natural death. As will be shown 
later, 51 in the unconscious mode of thinking even 
a natural death is perceived as murder; the per- 
son was killed by evil wishes. Any one inter- 
ested in the origin and meaning of dreams deal- 
ing with the death of dear relatives such as par- 
ents and brothers and sisters will find that the 
same feeling of ambivalence is responsible for the 
fact that the dreamer, the child, and the savage 
all have the same attitude towards the dead. 52 

A little while ago we challenged Wundt's con- 
ception, who explains the nature of taboo through 
the fear of demons, and yet we have just agreed 
with the explanation which traces back the taboo 
of the dead to a fear of the soul of the dead after 
it has turned into a demon. This seems like a 
contradiction, but it will not be difficult for us to 
explain it. It is true that we have accepted the 
idea of demons, but we know that this assump- 
tion is not something final which psychology can- 
not resolve into further elements. We have, as 
it were, exposed the demons by recognizing them 

ei Cf. Chap. III. 

B2 Freud, "The Interpretation of Dreams. 



as mere projections of hostile feelings which the 
survivor entertains towards the dead. 

The double feeling — tenderness and hostility 
— against the deceased, which we consider well 
founded, endeavors to assert itself at the time 
of bereavement as mourning and satisfaction. A 
conflict must ensue between these contrary feel- 
ings and as one of them, namely the hostility, is 
altogether or for the greater part unconscious, 
the conflict cannot result in a conscious difference 
in the form of hostility or tenderness as, for in- 
stance, when we forgive an injury inflicted upon 
us by some one we love. The process usually ad- 
justs itself through a special psychic mechanism, 
which is designated in psychoanalysis as projec- 
tion. This unknown hostility, of which we are 
ignorant and of which we do not wish to know, is 
projected from our inner perception into the 
outer world and is thereby detached from our 
own person and attributed to the other. Not we, 
the survivors, rejoice because we are rid of the de- 
ceased, on the contrary, we mourn for him; but 
now, curiously enough, he has become an evil 
demon who would rejoice in our misfortune and 
who seeks our death. The survivors must now 
defend themselves against this evil enemy; they 
are freed from inner oppression, but they have 
only succeeded in exchanging it for an affliction 
from without. 


It is not to be denied that this process of pro- 
jection, which turns the dead into malevolent 
enemies, finds some support in the real hostilities 
of the dead which the survivors remember and 
with which they really can reproach the dead. 
These hostilities are harshness, the desire to dom- 
inate, injustice, and whatever else forms the back- 
ground of even the most tender relations between 
men. But the process cannot be so simple that 
this factor alone could explain the origin of 
demons by projection. The offenses of the dead 
certainly motivate in part the hostility of the sur- 
vivors, but they would have been ineffective if 
they had not given rise to this hostility and the 
occasion of death would surely be the least suit- 
able occasion for awakening the memory of the 
reproaches which justly could have been brought 
against the deceased. We cannot dispense with 
the unconscious hostility as the constant and 
really impelling motive. This hostile tendency 
towards those nearest and dearest could remain 
latent during their lifetime, that is to say, it could 
avoid betraying itself to consciousness either 
directly or indirectly through any substitutive 
formation. However, when the person who was 
simultaneously loved and hated died, this was no 
longer possible, and the conflict became acute. 
The mourning originating from the enhanced 
tenderness, became on the one hand more intol- 


erant of the latent hostility, while on the other 
hand it could not tolerate that the latter should 
not give origin to a feeling of pure gratification. 
Thus there came about the repression of the un- 
conscious hostility through projection, and the 
formation of the ceremonial in which fear of pun- 
ishment by demons finds expression. With the 
termination of the period of mourning, the con- 
flict also loses its acuteness so that the taboo of 
the dead can be abated or sink into oblivion. 


Having thus explained the basis on which the 
very instructive taboo of the dead has grown up, 
we must not miss the opportunity of adding a few 
observations which may become important for the 
understanding of taboo in general. 

The projection of unconscious hostility upon 
demons in the taboo of the dead is only a single 
example from a whole series of processes to which 
we must grant the greatest influence in the form- 
ation of primitive psychic life. In the foregoing 
case the mechanism of projection is used to settle 
an emotional conflict; it serves the same purpose 
in a large number of psychic situations which lead 
to neuroses. But projection is not specially cre- 
ated for the purpose of defense, it also comes into 
being where there are no conflicts. The projec- 
tiorToF inner" perceptions to the outside is a primi- 


tive mechanism which, for instance, also influ- 
ences our sense perceptions, so that it normally 
has the greatest share in shaping our outer world. 
Under conditions that have not yet been suf- 
ficiently determined even inner perceptions of 
ideational and emotional processes are projected 
outwardly, like sense perceptions, and are used 
to shape the outer world, whereas they ought to 
remain in the inner world. This is perhaps 
genetically connected with the fact that the func- 
tion of attention was originally directed not 
towards the inner world, but to the stimuli 
streaming in from the outer world, and only re- 
ceived reports of pleasure and pain from the 
endopsychic processes. Only with the develop- 
ment of the language of abstract thought 
through the association of sensory remnants of 
word representations with inner processes, did the 
latter gradually become capable of perception. 
Before this took place primitive man had devel- 
oped a picture of the outer world through the out- 
ward projection of inner perceptions, which we, 
with our reenforced conscious perception, must 
now translate back into psychology. 

The projection of their own evil impulses upon 
demons is only a part of what has become the 
world system ("Weltanschauung") of primitive 
man which we shall discuss later as "animism." 
We shall then have to ascertain the psychological 


nature of such a system formation and the points 
of support which we shall find in the analysis 
of these system formations will again bring us 
face to face with the neurosis. For the present 
we merely wish to suggest that the "secondary 
elaboration" of the dream content is the proto- 
type of all these system formations. 53 And let 
us not forget that beginning at the stage of sys- 
tem formation there are two origins for every act 
judged by consciousness, namely the systematic, 
and the real but unconscious origin. 54 

Wundt 55 remarks that "among the influences 
which myth everywhere ascribes to demons the 
evil ones preponderate, so that according to the 
religions of races evil demons are evidently older 
than good demons." Now it is quite possible 
that the whole conception of demons was derived 
from the extremely important relation to the 
dead. In the further course of human develop- 
ment the ambivalence inherent in this relation 
then manifested itself by allowing two altogether 
contrary psychic formations to issue from the 
same root, namely, the fear of demons and of 
ghosts, and the reverence for ancestors. 56 Noth- 

53 Freud, "The Interpretation of Dreams." 

54 The projection creations of primitive man resemble the per- 
sonifications through which the poet projects his warring impulses 
out of himself, as separated individuals. 

55 "Myth and Religion," p. 129. 

56 In the psychoanalysis of neurotic persons who suffer, or have 
suffered, in their childhood from the fear of ghosts, it is often not 


ing testifies so much to the influence of mourning 
on the origin of belief in demons as the fact that 
demons were always taken to be the spirits of 
persons not long dead. Mourning has a very dis- 
tinct psychic task to perform, namely, to detach 
the memories and expectations of the survivors 
from the dead. When this work is accomplished 
the grief, and with it the remorse and reproach, 
lessens, and therefore also the fear of the demon. 
But the very spirits which at first were feared as 
demons now serve a friendlier purpose; they are 
revered as ancestors and appealed to for help in 
times of distress. 

If we survey the relation of survivors to the 
dead through the course of the ages, it is very evi- 
dent that the ambivalent feeling has extraordi- 
narily abated. We now find it easy to suppress 
whatever unconscious hostility towards the dead 
there may still exist without any special psychic 
effort on our part. Where formerly satisfied 
hate and painful tenderness struggled with each 
other, we now find piety, which appears like a 
cicatrice and demands : De mortuis nil nisi bene. 
Only neurotics still blur the mourning for the loss 
of their dear ones with attacks of compulsive re- 

difficult to expose these ghosts as the parents. Compare also in 
this connection the communication of P. Haeberlin, "Sexual 
Ghosts" ("Sexual Problems," Feb., 1912), where it is a question 
of another erotically accentuated person, but where the father was 


proaches which psychoanalysis reveals as the old 
ambivalent emotional feeling. How this change 
was brought about, and to what extent constitu- 
tional changes and real improvement of familiar 
relations share in causing the abatement of the 
ambivalent feeling, need not be discussed here. 
But this example would lead us to assume that 
the psychic impulses of primitive man possessed 
a higher degree of ambivalence than is found at 
present among civilized human beings. With 
the decline of this ambivalence the taboo, as the 
compromise symptom of the ambivalent conflict, 
also slowly disappeared. Neurotics who are 
compelled to reproduce this conflict, together with 
the taboo resulting from it, may be said to have 
brought with them an atavistic remnant in the 
form of an archaic constitution the compensation 
of which in the interest of cultural demands en- 
tails the most prodigious psychic efforts on their 

At this point we may recall the confusing in- 
formation which Wundt offered us about the 
double meaning of the word taboo, namely, holy 
and unclean. (See above.) It was supposed 
that originally the word taboo did not yet mean 
holy and unclean but signified something de- 
monic, something which may not be touched, thus 
emphasizing a characteristic common to both ex- 
tremes of the later conception; this persistent 


common trait proves, however, that an original 
correspondence existed between what was holy 
and what was unclean, which only later became 

In contrast to this, our discussions readily show 
that the double meaning in question belonged to 
the word taboo from the very beginning and that 
it serves to designate a definite ambivalence as 
well as everything which has come into existence 
on the basis of this ambivalence. Taboo is itself 
an ambivalent word and by way of supplement, 
we may add that the established meaning of this 
word might of itself have allowed us to guess 
what we have found as the result of extensive in- 
vestigation, namely, that the taboo prohibition is 
to be explained as the result of an emotional 
ambivalence. A study of the oldest languages 
has taught us that at one time there were many 
such words which included their own contrasts 
so that they were in a certain sense ambivalent, 
though perhaps not exactly in the same sense as 
the word taboo. 57 Slight vocal modifications of 
this primitive word containing two opposite 
meanings later served to create a separate lin- 
guistic expression for the two opposites originally 
united in one word. 

57 Compare my article on Abel's "Gegensinn des Urworte" in 
the "Jahrbuch fiir Psychoanalytische und Psychopathologische 
Forschungen," Bd. II, 1*910. 


The word taboo has had a different fate; with 
the diminished importance of the ambivalence 
which it connotes it has itself disappeared, or 
rather, the words analogous to it have vanished 
from the vocabulary. In a later connection I 
hope to be able to show that a tangible historic 
change is probably concealed behind the fate of 
this conception; that the word at first was asso- 
ciated with definite human relations which were 
characterized by great emotional ambivalence 
from which it expanded to other analogous re- 

Unless we are mistaken, the understanding of 
taboo also throws light upon the nature and 
origin of conscience. Without stretching ideas 
we can speak of a taboo conscience and a taboo 
sense of guilt after the violation of a taboo. 
Taboo conscience is probably the oldest form in 
which we meet the phenomenon of conscience. 

For w r hat is "conscience"? According to 
linguistic testimony it belongs to what we know 
most surely; in some languages its meaning is 
hardly to be distinguished from consciousness. 

Conscience is the inner perception of objections 
to definite wish impulses that exist in us ; but the 
emphasis is put upon the fact that this rejection 
does not have to depend on anything else, that it 
is sure of itself. This becomes even plainer in 
the case of a guilty conscience, where we become 


aware of the inner condemnation of such acts 
which realized some of our definite wish impulses. 
Confirmation seems superfluous here; whoever 
has a conscience must feel in himself the justifica- 
tion of the condemnation, and the reproach for 
the accomplished action. But this same charac- 
ter is evinced by the attitude of savages towards 
taboo. Taboo is a command of conscience, the 
violation of which causes a terrible sense of guilt 
.which is as self-evident as its origin is unknown. 58 
It is therefore probable that conscience also 
originates on the basis of an ambivalent feeling 
from quite definite human relations which contain 
this ambivalence. It probably originates under 
conditions which are in force both for taboo and 
the compulsion neurosis, that is, one component 
of the two contrasting feelings is unconscious and 
is kept repressed by the compulsive domination 
of the other component. This is confirmed by 
many things which we have learned from our 
analysis of neuroses. In the first place the char- 
acter of compulsion neurotics shows a predomi- 
nant trait of painful conscientiousness which is a 
symptom of reaction against the temptation 

58 It is an interesting parallel that the sense of guilt resulting 
from the violation of a taboo is in no way diminished if the viola- 
tion took place unwittingly (see examples above), and that even in 
the Greek myth the guilt of Oedipus is not cancelled by the fact 
that it was incurred without his knowledge and will and even 
against them, 


which lurks in the unconscious, and which de- 
velops into the highest degrees of guilty con- 
science as their illness grows worse. Indeed, one 
may venture the assertion that if the origin of 
guilty conscience could not be discovered through 
compulsion neurotic patients, there would be no 
prospect of ever discovering it. This task is suc- 
cessfully solved in the case of the individual neu- 
rotic, and we are confident of finding a similar so- 
lution in the case of races. 

In the second place we cannot help noticing 
that the sense of guilt contains much of the nature 
of anxiety; without hesitation it may be described 
as "conscience phobia." But fear points to un- 
conscious sources; The psychology of the neu- 
roses taught us that when wish feelings undergo 
repression their libido becomes transformed into 
anxiety. In addition we must bear in mind that 
the sense of guilt also contains something un- 
known and unconscious, namely the motivation 
for the rejection. The character of anxiety in 
the sense of guilt corresponds to this unknown 

If taboo expresses itself mainly in prohibitions 
it may well be considered self-evident, without 
remote proof from the analogy with neurosis 
that it is based on a positive, desireful impulse. 
For what nobody desires to do does not have to 
be forbidden, and certainly whatever is expressly 


forbidden must be an object of desire. If we 
applied this plausible theory to primitive races 
we would have to conclude that among their 
strongest temptations were desires to kill their 
kings and priests, to commit incest, to abuse their 
dead and the like. That is not very prob- 
able. And if we should apply the same theory to 
those cases in which we ourselves seem to hear the 
voice of conscience most clearly we would arouse 
the greatest contradiction. For there we would 
assert with the utmost certainty that we did not 
feel the slightest temptation to violate any of 
these commandments, as for example, the com- 
mandment : Thou shalt not kill, and that we felt 
nothing but repugnance at the very idea. 

But if we grant the testimony of our conscience 
the importance it claims, then the prohibition — 
the taboo as well as our moral prohibitions — be- 
comes superfluous, while the existence of a con- 
science, in turn, remains unexplained and the con- 
nection between conscience, taboo and neurosis 
disappears. The net result of this would then 
be our present state of understanding unless we 
view the problem psychoanalytically. 

But if we take into account the following re- 
sults of psychoanalysis, our understanding of the 
problem is greatly advanced. The analysis of 
dreams of normal individuals has shown that our 
own temptation to kill others is stronger and more 


frequent than we had suspected and that it pro- 
duces psychic effects even where it does not reveal 
itself to our consciousness. And when we have 
learnt that the obsessive rules of certain neurotics 
are nothing but measures of self -reassurance and 
self -punishment erected against the reenforced 
impulse to commit murder, we can return with 
fresh appreciation to our previous hypothesis that 
every prohibition must conceal a desire. We can 
then assume that this desire to murder actually 
exists and that the taboo as well as the moral pro- 
hibition are psychologically by no means super- 
fluous but are, on the contrary, explained and 
justified through our ambivalent attitude towards 
the impulse to slay. 

The nature of this ambivalent relation so often 
emphasized as fundamental, namely, that the 
positive underlying desire is unconscious, opens 
the possibility of showing further connections and 
explaining further problems. The psychic 
processes in the unconscious are not entirely iden- 
tical with those known to us from our conscious 
psychic life, but have the benefit of certain notable 
liberties of which the latter are deprived. An 
unconscious impulse need not have originated 
where we find it expressed, it can spring from an 
entirely different place and may originally have 
referred to other persons and relations, but 
through the mechanism of displacement,, it 


reaches the point where it comes to our notice. 
Thanks to the indestructibility of unconscious 
processes and their inaccessibility to correction, 
the impulse may be saved over from earlier times 
to which it was adapted to later periods and con- 
ditions in which its manifestations must neces- 
sarily seem foreign. These are all only hints, but 
a careful elaboration of them would show how 
important they may become for the understand- 
ing of the development of civilization. 

In closing these discussions we do not want to 
neglect to make an observation that will be of use 
for later investigations. Even if we insist upon 
the essential similarity between taboo and moral 
prohibitions we do not dispute that a psycholog- 
ical difference must exist between them. A 
change in the relations of the fundamental am- 
bivalence can be the only reason why the prohi- 
bition no longer appears in the form of a taboo. 

In the analytical consideration of taboo phe- 
nomena we have hitherto allowed ourselves to be 
guided by their demonstrable agreements with 
compulsion neurosis ; but as taboo is not a neuro- 
sis but a social creation we are also confronted 
with the task of showing wherein lies the essential 
difference between the neurosis and a product of 
culture like the taboo. 

Here again I will take a single fact as my start- 
ing point. Primitive races fear a punishment for 


the violation of a taboo, usually a serious disease 
or death. This punishment threatens only him 
who has been guilty of the violation. It is differ- 
ent with the compulsion neurosis. If the patient 
wants to do something that is forbidden to him 
he does not fear punishment for himself, but for 
another person. This person is usually indefi- 
nite, but, by means of analysis, is easily recog- 
nized as some one very near and dear to the pa- 
tient. The neurotic therefore acts as if he were 
altruistic, while primitive man seems egotistical. 
Only if retribution fails to overtake the taboo vio- 
lator spontaneously does a collective feeling 
awaken among savages that they are all threat- 
ened through the sacrilege, and they hasten to in- 
flict the omitted punishment themselves. It is 
easy for us to explain the mechanism of this 
solidarity. It is a question of fear of the con- 
tagious example, the temptation to imitate, that is 
to say, of the capacity of the taboo to infect. If 
some one has succeeded in satisfying the repressed 
desire, the same desire must manifest itself in all 
his companions ; hence, in order to keep down this 
temptation, this envied individual must be de- 
spoiled of the fruit of his daring. Not infre- 
quently the punishment gives the executors them- 
selves an opportunity to commit the same sacri- 
legious act by justifying it as an expiation. This 
is really one of the fundamentals of the human 


code of punishment which rightly presumes the 
same forbidden impulses in the criminal and in 
the members of society who avenge his offense. 
Psychoanalysis here confirms what the pious 
were wont to say, that we are all miserable sin- 
ners. How then shall we explain the unexpected 
nobility of the neurosis which fears nothing for 
itself and everything for the beloved person? 
Psychoanalytic investigation shows that this no- 
bility is not primary. Originally, that is to say 
at the beginning of the disease, the threat of pun- 
ishment pertained to one's own person; in every 
case the fear was for one's own life; the fear of 
death being only later displaced upon another 
beloved person. The process is somewhat com- 
plicated but we have a complete grasp of it. An 
evil impulse — a death wish — towards the beloved 
person is always at the basis of the formation of 
a prohibition. This is repressed through a pro- 
hibition, and the prohibition is connected with a 
certain act which by displacement usually substi- 
tutes the hostile for the beloved person, and the 
execution of this act is threatened with the pen- 
alty of death. But the process goes further and 
the original wish for the death of the beloved 
other person is then replaced by fear for his death. 
The tender altruistic trait of the neurosis there- 
fore merely compensates for the opposite attitude 
of brutal egotism which is at the basis of it. If 


we designate as social those emotional impulses 
which are determined through regard for another 
person who is not taken as a sexual object, we can 
emphasize the withdrawal of these social factors 
as an essential feature of the neurosis, which is 
later disguised through over-compensation. 

Without lingering over the origin of these 
social impulses and their relation to other funda- 
mental impulses of man, we will bring out the sec- 
ond main characteristic of the neurosis by means 
of another example. The form in which taboo 
manifests itself has the greatest similarity to the 
touching phobia of neurotics, the Delire de 
toucher. As a matter of fact this neurosis is reg- 
ularly concerned with the prohibition of sexual 
touching and psychoanalysis has quite generally 
shown that the motive power which is deflected 
and displaced in the neurosis is of sexual origin. 
In taboo the forbidden contact has evidently not 
only sexual significance but rather the more gen- 
eral one of attack, of acquisition and of personal 
assertion. If it is prohibited to touch the chief 
or something that was in contact with him it 
means that an inhibition should be imposed upon 
the same impulse which on other occasions ex- 
presses itself in suspicious surveillance of the 
chief and even in physical ill-treatment of him 
before his coronation. (See above.) Thus the 
preponderance of searnal components of the im- 


pulse over the social components is the determin- 
ing factor of the neurosis. But the social im- 
pulses themselves came into being through the 
union of egotistical and erotic components into 
special entities. 

From this single example of a comparison be- 
tween taboo and compulsion neurosis it is already- 
possible to guess the relation between individual 
forms of the neurosis and the creations of culture, 
and in what respect the study of the psychology 
of the neurosis is important for the understanding 
of the development of culture. 

In one way the neuroses show a striking and 
far-reaching correspondence with the great social 
productions of art, religion and philosophy, while 
again they seem like distortions of them. We 
may say that hysteria is a caricature of an artistic 
creation, a compulsion neurosis, a caricature of a 
religion, and a paranoic delusion a caricature of a 
philosophic system. In the last analysis this 
deviation goes back to the fact that the neuroses 
are asocial formations ; they seek to accomplish by 
private means what arose in society through col- 
lective labor. In analyzing the impulse of the 
neuroses one learns that motive powers of sexual 
origin exercise the determining influence in them, 
while the corresponding cultural creations rest 
upon social impulses and on such as have issued 
from the combination of egotistical and sexual 


components. It seems that the sexual need is not 
capable of uniting men in the same way as the 
demands of self preservation; sexual satisfaction 
is in the first place the private concern of the 

Genetically the asocial nature of the neurosis 
springs from its original tendency to flee from a 
dissatisfying reality to a more pleasurable world 
of phantasy. This real world which neurotics 
shun is dominated by the society of human beings 
and by the institutions created by them; the 
estrange ment from reality is at the same tim e a 
withdrawal from human companionship. 




It is a necessary defect of studies which seek 
to apply the point of view of psychoanalysis to 
the mental sciences that they cannot do justice to 
either subject. They therefore confine them- 
selves to the role of incentives and make sugges- 
tions to the expert which he should take into con- 
sideration in his work. This defect will make 
itself felt most strongly in an essay such as this 
which tries to treat of the enormous sphere called 
animism. 1 

Animism in the narrower sense is the theory of 
psychic concepts and in the wider sense, of spir- 
itual beings in general. Animatism, the anima- 
tion theory of seemingly inanimate nature, is a 
further subdivision which also includes animatism 

i The necessary crowding of the material also compels us to dis- 
pense with a thorough bibliography. Instead of this the reader is 
referred to the well-known works of Herbert Spencer, J. G. Fra- 
zer, A. Lang, E. B. Tylor and W. Wundt, from which all the 
statements concerning animism and magic are taken. The inde- 
pendence of the author can manifest itself only in the choice of 
the material and of opinions. 



and animism. The name animism, formerly ap- 
plied to a definite philosophic system, seems to 
have acquired its present meaning through E. B. 
Tylor. 2 

What led to the formulation of these names is 
the insight into the very remarkable conceptions 
of nature and the world of those primitive races 
known to us from history and from our own 
times. These races populate the world with a 
multitude of spiritual beings which are benevolent 
or malevolent to them, and attribute the causation 
of natural processes to these spirits and demons ; 
they also consider that not only animals and 
plants, but inanimate things as well are animated 
by them. A third and perhaps the most impor- 
tant part of this primitive "nature philosophy" 
seems far less striking to us because we ourselves 
are not yet far enough removed from it, though 
we have greatly limited the existence of spirits 
and to-day explain the processes of nature by the 
assumption of impersonal physical forces. For 
primitive people believe in a similar "animation" 
of human individuals as well. Human beings 
have souls which can leave their habitation and 
enter into other beings ; these souls are the bearers 
of spiritual activities and are, to a certain extent, 
independent of the "bodies." Originally souls 

2E. B. Tylor, "Primitive Culture," Vol. I, p. 425, fourth ed., 
1903. W. Wundt, "Myth and Religion," Vol. II, p. 173, 1906. 


were thought of as being very similar to individ- 
uals; only in the course of a long evolution did 
they lose their material character and attain a 
high degree of "spiritualization." 3 

Most authors incline to the assumption that 
these soul conceptions are the original nucleus 
of the animistic system, that spirits merely corre- 
spond to souls that have become independent, and 
that the souls of animals, plants and things were 
formed after the analogy of human souls. 

How did primitive people come to the pecul- 
iarly dualistic fundamental conceptions on which 
this animistic system rests? Through the obser- 
vation, it is thought, of the phenomena of sleep 
(with dreams) and death which resemble 
sleep, and through the effort to explain these 
conditions, which affect each individual so inti- 
mately. Above all, the problem of death must 
have become the starting point of the formation 
of the theory. To primitive man the continua- 
tion of life — immortality — would be self-evident. 
The conception of death is something accepted 
later, and only with hesitation, for even to us it is 
still devoid of content and unrealizable. Very 
likely discussions have taken place over the part 
which may have been played by other observa- 
tions and experiences in the formation of the 
fundamental animistic conceptions such as dream 

s Wundt 1. c, Chapter IV, "Die Seelenvorstellungen." 


imagery, shadows and reflections, but these have 
led to no conclusion. 4 

If primitive man reacted to the phenomena that 
stimulated his reflection with the formation of 
conceptions of the soul, and then transferred 
these to objects of the outer world, his attitude 
will be judged to be quite natural and in no way 
mysterious. In view of the fact that animistic 
conceptions have been shown to be similar among 
the most varied races and in all periods, Wundt 
states that these "are the necessary psychological 
product of the myth forming consciousness, and 
primitive animism may be looked upon as the 
spiritual expression of man's natural state in so 
far as this is at all accessible to our observation." 5 
Hume has already justified the animation of the 
inanimate in his "Natural History of Religions," 
where he said: "There is a universal tendency 
among mankind to conceive all beings like them- 
selves and to transfer to every object those qual- 
ities with which they are familiarly acquainted 
and of which they are intimately conscious." 6 

Animism is a system of thought, it gives not 
only the explanation of a single phenomenon, but 
makes it possible to comprehend the totality of 

* Compare, besides Wundt and H. Spencer and the instructive 
article in the "Encyclopedia Britannica," 1911 (Animism, 
Mythology, and so forth). 

6 1. c, p. 154. 

■« See Tylor, "Primitive Culture," Vol. I, p. 477. 


the world from one point, as a continuity. Writ- 
ers maintain that in the course of time three such 
systems of thought, three great world systems 
came into being: the animistic (mythological), 
the religious, and the scientific. Of these ani- 
mism, the first system is perhaps the most con- 
sistent and the most exhaustive, and the one which 
explains the nature of the world in its entirety. 
This first world system of mankind is now a psy- 
chological theory. It would go beyond our 
scope to show how much of it can still be demon- 
strated in the life of to-day, either as a worthless 
survival in the form of superstition, or in living 
form, as the foundation of our language, our 
belief, and our philosophy. 

It is in reference to the successive stages of 
these three world systems that we say that anim- 
ism in itself was not yet a religion but contained 
the prerequisites from which religions were later 
formed. It is also evident that myths are based 
upon animistic foundations, but the detailed rela- 
tion of myths to animism seem unexplained in 
some essential points. 


Our psychoanalytic work will begin at a differ- 
ent point. It must not be assumed that mankind 
came to create its first world system through a 
purely speculative thirst for knowledge. The 


practical need of mastering the world must have 
contributed to this effort. We are therefore not 
astonished to learn that something else went hand 
in hand with the animistic system, namely the 
elaboration of directions for making oneself mas- 
ter of men, animals and things, as well as of their 
spirits. S. Reinach 7 wants to call these direc- 
tions, which are known under the names of 
"sorcery and magic," the strategy of animism; 
With Mauss and Hubert, I should prefer to com- 
pare them to a technique. 8 

Can the conceptions of sorcery and magic be 
separated? It can be done if we are willing on 
our own authority to put ourselves above the 
vagaries of linguistic usage. Then sorcery is 
essentially the art of influencing spirits by treat- 
in g" llieni like p e Trrjfe~Tin rie r t h e same ciic trnf 
"stances, that is to say by appeasing them, recon- 
ciling them, making them more favorably dis- 
posed to one, by intimidating them, by depriving 
them of their power and by making them subject 
to one's will; all that is accomplished through the 
same methods that have been found effective with 
living people. Magic, however, is something 
else; it does not essentially concern itself with 
spirits, and uses special means, not the ordinary 

7"Cultes, Mythes et Religions," T. II, Introduction, p. XV, 
8 "Ann£e Sociologique," Seventh Vol., 1904. 


psychological method. We can easily guess that 
magic is the earlier and the more important part 
of animistic technique, for among the means with 
which spirits are to be treated there are also found 
the magic kind, 9 and magic is also applied where 
spiritualization of nature has not yet, as it seems 
to us, been accomplished. 

Magic must serve the most varied purposes. 
It must subject the processes of nature to the will 
of man, protect the individual against enemies 
and dangers, and give him the power to injure 
his enemies. But the principles on whose as- 
sumptions the magic activity is based, or rather 
the principle of magic, is so evident that it was 
recognized by all authors. If we may take the 
opinion of E. B. Tylor at its face value it can be 
most tersely expressed in his words: "mistaking 
an ideal connection for a real one." We shall 
explain this characteristic in the case of two 
groups of magic acts. 

One of the most widespread magic procedures 
for injuring an enemy consists of making an 
effigy of him out of any kind of material. The 
likeness counts for little, in fact any object may 
be "named" as his image. Whatever is subse- 
quently done to this image will also happen to 

9 To frighten away a ghost with noise and cries is a form of 
pure sorcery; to force him to do something by taking his name is 
to employ magic against him, 


the hated prototype; thus if the effigy has been 
injured in any place he will be afflicted by a dis- 
ease in the corresponding part of the body. This 
same magic technique, instead of being used for 
private enmity can also be employed for pious 
purposes and can thus be used to aid the gods 
against evil demons. I quote Frazer: 10 "Ev- 
ery night when the sun-god Ra in ancient Egypt 
sank to his home in the glowing west he was 
assailed by hosts of demons under the leadership 
of the archfiend Apepi. All night long he fought 
them, and sometimes by day the powers of dark- 
ness sent up clouds even into the blue Egyptian 
sky to obscure his light and weaken his power. 
To aid the sun-god in this daily struggle, a cere- 
mony was daily performed in his temple at 
Thebes. A figure of his foe Apepi, represented 
as a crocodile with a hideous face or a serpent 
with many coils, was made of wax, and on it the 
demon's name was written in green ink. Wrapt 
in a papyrus case, on which another likeness of 
Apepi had been drawn in green ink, the figure 
was then tied up with black hair, spat upon, 
hacked with a stone knife and cast on the ground. 
There the priest trod on it with his left foot again 
and again, and then burned it in a fire made of a 
certain plant or grass. When Apepi himself had 
thus been effectively disposed of, waxen effigies 

10 " The Magic Art," II, p. 67. 


of each of his principal demons, and of their 
fathers, mothers, and children, were made and 
burnt in the same way. The service, accom- 
panied by the recitation of certain prescribed 
spells, was repeated not merely morning, noon 
and night, but whenever a storm was raging or 
heavy rain had set in, or black clouds were steal- 
ing across the sky to hide the sun's bright disk. 
The fiends of darkness, clouds and rain, felt the 
injury inflicted on their images as if it had been 
done to themselves ; they passed away, at least for 
a time, and the beneficent sun-god shone out tri- 
umphant once more." 1X 

There is a great mass of magic actions which 
show a similar motivation but I shall lay stress 
upon only two, which have always played a great 
role among primitive races and which have been 
partly preserved in the myths and cults of higher 
stages of evolution: the art of causing rain and 
fruitfulness by magic. Rain is produced by 
magic means, by imitating it, and perhaps also 
by imitating the clouds and storm which produce 
it. It looks as if they wanted to "play rain." 
The Ainos of Japan, for instance, make rain by 

11 The Biblical prohibition against making an image of anything 
living hardly sprang from any fundamental rejection of plastic 
art, but was probably meant to deprive magic, which the Hebraic 
religion proscribed, of one of its instruments. Frazer, 1. c, p. 87, 


pouring out water through a big sieve, while 
others fit out a big bowl with sails and oars as 
if it were a ship, which is then dragged about 
the village and gardens. But the fruitfulness of 
the soil was assured by magic means by showing 
it the spectacle of human sexual intercourse. To 
cite one out of many examples; in some part of 
Java, the peasants used to go out into the fields 
at night for sexual intercourse when the rice 
was about to blossom in order to stimulate the 
rice to fruitfulness through their example. 12 At 
the same time it was feared that proscribed in- 
cestuous relationships would stimulate the soil 
to grow weeds and render it unfruitful. 13 

Certain negative rules, that is to say magic 
precautions, must be put into this first group. 
If some of the inhabitants of a Dayak village had 
set out on a hunt for wild-boars, those remaining 
behind were in the meantime not permitted to 
touch either oil or water with their hands, as such 
acts would soften the hunters' fingers and would 
let the quarry slip through their hands. 14 Or 
when a Gilyak hunter was pursuing game in the 
woods, his children were forbidden to make draw- 
ings on wood or in the sand, as the paths in the 

12 " The Magic Art," II, p. 98. 

is An echo of this is to be found in the "Oedipus Rex" of 
i* "The Magic Art," p. 120. 


thick woods might become as intertwined as the 
lines of the drawing, and the hunter would not 
find his way home. 15 

The fact that in these as in a great many other 
examples of magic influence, distance plays no 
part, telepathy is taken as a matter of course — 
will cause us no difficulties in grasping the pecul- 
iarity of magic. 

There is no doubt about what is considered the 
effective force in all these examples. It is the 
similarity between the performed action and the 
expected happening. Frazer therefore calls this 
kind of magic imitative or homeopathic. If I 
want it to rain I only have to produce something 
that looks like rain or recalls rain. In a later 
phase of cultural development, instead of these 
magic conjurations of rain, processions are ar- 
ranged to a house of god, in order to supplicate 
the saint who dwells there to send rain. Finally 
also this religious technique will be given up and 
instead an effort will be made to find out what 
would influence the atmosphere to produce rain. 

In another group of magic actions the prin- 
ciple of similarity is no longer involved, but in its 
stead there is another principle the nature of 
which is well brought out in the following exam- 

Another method may be used to injure an 

is 1. c, p. 122. 


enemy. You possess yourself of his hair, his 
nails, anything that he has discarded, or even a 
part of his clothing, and do something hostile 
to these things. This is just as effective as if 
you had dominated the person himself, and any- 
thing that you do to the things that belong to 
him must happen to him too. According to the 
conception of primitive men a name is an essen- 
tial part of a personality ; if therefore you know 
the name of a person or a spirit you have ac- 
quired a certain power over its bearer. This 
explains the remarkable precautions and restric- 
tions in the use of names which we have touched 
upon in the essay on taboo. 16 In these examples 
similarity is evidently replaced by relationship. 
The cannibalism of primitive races derives its 
more sublime motivation in a similar manner. 
By absorbing parts of the body of a person 
through the act of eating we also come to possess 
the properties which belonged to that person. 
From this there follow precautions and restric- 
tions as to diet under special circumstances. 
Thus a pregnant woman will avoid eating the 
meat of certain animals because their undesir- 
able properties, for example, cowardice, might 
thus be transferred to the child she is nourishing. 
It makes no difference to the magic influence 
whether the connection is already abolished or 

"See preceding chapter, p. 92. 


whether it had consisted of only one very im- 
portant contact. Thus, for instance, the belief 
in a magic bond which links the fate of a wound 
with the weapon which caused it can be followed 
unchanged through thousands of years. If a 
Melanesian gets possession of the bow by which 
he was wounded he will carefully keep it in a cool 
place in order thus to keep down the inflamma- 
tion of the wound. But if the bow has remained 
in the possession of the enemy it will certainly be 
kept in close proximity to a .fire in order that 
the wound may burn and become thoroughly 
inflamed. Pliny, in his Natural History 
XXVIII, advises spitting on the hand which 
has caused the injury if one regrets having in- 
jured some one; the pain of the injured person 
will then immediately be eased. Francis Bacon, 
in his Natural History, mentions the generally 
accredited belief that putting a salve on the 
weapon which has made a wound will cause this 
wound to heal of itself. It is said that even to- 
day English peasants follow this prescription, 
and that if they have cut themselves with a scythe 
they will from that moment on carefully keep the 
instrument clean in order that the wound may 
not fester. In June, 1902, a local English 
weekly reported that a woman called Matilde 
Henry of Norwich accidentally ran an iron nail 
into the sole of her foot. Without having the 


wound examined or even taking off her stocking 
she bade her daughter to oil the nail thoroughly, 
in the expectation that then nothing could hap- 
pen to her. She died a few days later of 
tetanus 1T in consequence of postponed antisepsis. 

The examples from this last group illustrate 
Frazer's distinction between contagious magic 
and imitative* magic. What is considered as 
effective in these examples is no longer the simi- 
larity, but the association in space, the contiguity, 
or at least the imagined contiguity, or the mem- 
ory of its existence. But since similarity and 
contiguity are the two essential principles of the 
processes of association of ideas, it must be con- 
cluded that the dominance of associations of ideas 
really explains all the madness of the rules of 
magic. We can see how true Tylor's quoted 
characteristic of magic : "mistaking an ideal con- 
nection for a real one," proves to be. The same 
may be said of Frazer's idea, who has expressed 
it in almost the same terms: "men mistook the 
order of their ideas for the order of nature, and 
hence imagined that the control which they have, 
or seem to have, over their thoughts, permitted 
them to have a corresponding control over 
things." 18 

It will at first seem strange that this illuminat- 

17 Frazer, "The Magic Art," p. 201-203. 
is " The Magic Art," p. 420. 


ing explanation of magic could have been re- 
jected by some authors as unsatisfactory. 19 
But on closer consideration we must sustain the 
objection that the association theory of magic 
merely explains the paths that magic travels, and 
not its essential nature, that is, it does not ex- 
plain the misunderstanding which bids it put 
psychological laws in place of natural ones. We 
are apparently in need here of a dynamic factor; 
but while the search for this leads the critics of 
Frazer's theory astray, it will be easy to give a 
satisfactory explanation of magic by carrying 
its association theory further and by entering 
more deeply into it. 

First let us examine the simpler and more im- 
portant case of imitative magic. According to 
Frazer this may be practiced by itself, whereas 
contagious magic as a rule presupposes the imi- 
tative. 20 The motives which impel one to ex- 
ercise magic are easily recognized; they are the 
wishes of men. We need only assume that 
primitive man had great confidence in the power 
of his wishes. At bottom everything which he 
accomplished by magic means must have been 
done solely because he wanted it. Thus in the 
beginning only his wish is accentuated. 

is Compare the article "Magic" (N. T. W.) "Encyclopedia 
Britannica, 11th Ed. 
20 1. c., p. 54. 


In the case of the child which finds itself un- 
der analogous psychic conditions, without be- 
ing as yet capable of motor activity, we have 
elsewhere advocated the assumption that it at 
first really satisfies its wishes by means of hal- 
lucinations, in that it creates the satisfying sit- 
uation through centrifugal excitements of its 
sensory organs. 21 The adult primitive man 
knows another way. A motor impulse, the will, 
clings to his wish and this will which later will 
change the face of the earth in the service of wish 
fulfillment is now used to represent the gratifica- 
tion so that one may experience it, as it were, 
through motor hallucination. Such a represen- 
tation of the gratified wish is altogether compar- 
able to the play of children, where it replaces the 
purely sensory technique of gratification. If 
play and imitative representation suffice for the 
child and for primitive man, it must not be taken 
as a sign of modesty, in our sense, or of resigna- 
tion due to the realization of their impotence, on 
the contrary, it is the very obvious result of the 
excessive valuation of their wish, of the will which 
depends upon the wish and of the paths the wish 
takes. In time the psychic accent is displaced 
from the motives of the magic act to its means, 
namely to the act itself. Perhaps it would be 

2i Formulation of two principles of psychic activity, "Jahrb. fiir 
Psychoanalyt. Forschungen," Vol. Ill, 1912, p. 2, 


more correct to say that primitive man does not 
become aware of the over-valuation of his psychic 
acts until it becomes evident to him through the 
means employed. It would also seem as if it 
were the magic act itself which compels the ful- 
fillment of the wish by virtue of its similarity 
to the object desired. At the stage of animistic 
thinking there is as yet no way of demonstrating 
objectively the true state of affairs, but this 
becomes possible at later stages when, though 
such procedures are still practiced, the psychic 
phenomenon of skepticism already manifests it- 
self as a tendency to repression. At that stage 
men will acknowledge that the conjuration of 
spirits avails nothing unless accompanied by be- 
lief, and that the magic effect of prayer fails if 
there is no piety behind it. 22 

The possibility of a contagious magic which 
depends upon contiguous association will then 
show us that the psychic valuation of the wish and 
the will has been extended to all psychic acts 
which the will can command. We may say that 
at present there is a general over-valuation of all 
psychic processes, that is to say there is an atti- 
tude towards the world which according to our 
understanding of the relation of reality to 

22 The King in "Hamlet" (Act III, Scene 4) : 

"My words fly up, my thoughts remain below, 
Words without thoughts never to heaven go." 


thought must appear like an over-estimation of 
the latter. Objects as such are over-shadowed 
by the ideas representing them ; what takes place 
in the latter must also happen to the former and 
the relations which exist between ideas are also 
postulated as to things. As thought does not 
recognize distances and easily brings together in 
one act of consciousness things spatially and tem- 
porally far removed, the magic world also puts 
itself above spatial distance by telepathy, and 
treats a past association as if it were a present 
one. In the animistic age the reflection of the 
inner world must obscure that other picture of 
the world which we believe we recognize. 

Let us also point out that the two principles of 
association, similarity and contiguity, meet in 
the higher unity of contact. Association by con- 
tiguity is contact in the direct sense, and associa- 
tion by similarity is contact in the transferred 
sense. Another identity in the psychic process 
which has not yet been grasped by us is probably 
concealed in the use of the same word for both 
kinds of associations. It is the same range of the 
concept of contact which we have found in the 
analysis of taboo. 23 

In summing up we may now say that the prin- 
ciple which controls magic, and the technique of 

23 Compare Chapter II. 


the animistic method of thought, is "Omnipotence 
of Thought." 

I have adopted the term "Omnipotence of 
Thought" from a highly intelligent man, a 
former sufferer from compulsion neurosis, who, 
after being cured through psychoanalytic treat- 
ment, was able to demonstrate his efficiency and 
good sense. 24 He had coined this phrase to 
designate all those peculiar and uncanny occur- 
rences which seemed to pursue him just as they 
pursue others afflicted with his malady. Thus 
if he happened to think of a person, he was actu- 
ally confronted with this person as if he had con- 
jured him up; if he inquired suddenly about the 
state of health of an acquaintance whom he had 
long missed he was sure to hear that this ac- 
quaintance had just died, so that he could believe 
that the deceased had drawn his attention to him- 
self by telepathic means; if he uttered a half 
meant imprecation against a stranger, he could 
expect to have him die soon thereafter and bur- 
den him with the responsibility for his death. 
He was able to explain most of these cases in the 
course of the treatment, he could tell how the 
illusion had originated, and what he himself had 

2 * Remarks upon a case of Compulsion Neurosis, "Jahrb. fur 
Psychoanalyt. und Psychopath. Forschungen," Vol. I, 1909, 



contributed towards furthering his superstitious 
expectations. 25 All compulsion neurotics are 
superstitious in this manner and often against 
their better judgment. 

The existence of omnipotence of thought is 
most clearly seen in compulsion neurosis, where 
the results of this primitive method of thought 
are most often found or met in consciousness. 
But we must guard against seeing in this a dis- 
tinguishing characteristic of this neurosis, for 
analytic investigation reveals the same mechan- 
ism in the other neuroses. In every one of the 
neuroses it is not the reality of the experience but 
the reality of the thought which forms the basis 
for the symptom formation. Neurotics live in a 
special world in which, as I have elsewhere ex- 
pressed it, only the "neurotic standard of cur- 
rency" counts, that is to say, only tilings inten- 
sively thought of or affectively conceived are ef- 
fective with them, regardless of whether these 
things are in harmony with outer reality. The 
ysteric repeats in his attacks and fixates through 
his symptoms, occurrences which have taken place 
only in his phantasy, though in the last analysis 
they go back to real events or have been built up 
from them. The neurotic's guilty conscience is 

25 We seem to attribute the character of the "uncanny" to all 
such impressions which seek to confirm the omnipotence of 
thought and the animistic method of thought in general, though 
our judgment has long rejected it. 


just as incomprehensible if traced to real mis- 
deeds. A compulsion neurotic may be oppressed 
by a sense of guilt which is appropriate to a 
wholesale murderer, while at the same time he 
acts towards his fellow beings in a most consider- 
ate and scrupulous manner, a behavior which he 
evinced since his childhood. And yet his sense 
of guilt is justified; it is based upon intensive and 
frequent death wishes which unconsciously mani- 
fest themselves towards his fellow beings. It is 
motivated from the point of view of unconscious 
thoughts, but not of intentional acts. Thus the 
omnipotence of thought, the over-estimation of 
psychic processes as opposed to reality, proves to 
be of unlimited effect in the neurotic's affective 
life and in all that emanates from it. But if we 
subject him to psychoanalytic treatment, which 
makes his unconscious thoughts conscious to him, 
he refuses to believe that thoughts are free and 
is always afraid to express evil wishes lest 
they be fulfilled in consequence of his utterance. 
But through this attitude as well as through the 
superstition which plays an active part in his life 
he reveals to us how close he stands to the sav- 
age who believes he can change the outer world 
by a mere thought of his. 

The primary obsessive actions of these neu- 
rotics are really altogether of a magical nature. 
If not magic they are at least anti-magic and are 


destined to ward off the expectation of evil with 
which the neurosis is wont to begin. Whenever 
I was able to pierce these secrets it turned out 
that the content of this expectation of evil was 
death. According to Schopenhauer the problem 
of death stands at the beginning of every philoso- 
phy; we have heard that the formation of the 
soul conception and of the belief in demons which 
characterize animism, are also traced back to the 
impression which death makes upon man. It is 
hard to decide whether these first compulsive and 
protective actions follow the principle of similar- 
ity, or of contrast, for under the conditions of 
the neurosis they are usually distorted through 
displacement upon some trifle, upon some action 
which in itself is quite insignificant. 26 The pro- 
tective formulas of the compulsion neurosis also 
have a counterpart in the incantations of magic. 
Eut the evolution of compulsive actions may be 
described by pointing out how these actions be- 
gin as a spell against evil wishes which are very 
remote from anything sexual, only to end up as a 
substitute for forbidden sexual activity, which 
they imitate as faithfully as possible. 

If we accept the evolution of man's concep- 
tions of the universe mentioned above, according 
to which the animistic phase is succeeded by the 

26 The following discussions will yield a further motive for this 
displacement upon a trivial action. 


religious, and this in turn by the scientific, we 
have no difficulty in following the fortunes of the 
"omnipotence of thought" through all these 
phases. In the animistic stage man ascribes om- 
nipotence to himself ; in the religious he has ceded 
it to the gods, but without seriously giving it up, 
for he reserves to himself the right to control the 
gods by influencing them in some way or other in 
the interest of his wishes. In the scientific at- 
titude towards life there is no longer any room 
for man's omnipotence ; he has acknowledged his 
smallness and has submitted to death as to all 
other natural necessities in a spirit of resignation. 
Nevertheless, in our reliance upon the power of 
the human spirit which copes with the laws of 
reality, there still lives on a fragment of this 
primitive belief in the omnipotence of thought. 
In retracing the development of libidinous im- 
pulses in the individual from its mature form 
back to its first beginnings in childhood, we at 
first found an important distinction which is 
stated in the "Three Contributions to the Theory 
of Sex." 27 The manifestations of sexual im- 
pulses can be recognized from the beginning but 
at first they are not yet directed to any outer 
object. Each individual component of the sex- 
ual impulse works for a gain in pleasure and 
finds its gratification in its own body. This stage 

27 Monograph Series, 1916. 


is called autoerotism and is distinguished from 
the stage of object selection. 

In the course of further study it proved to be 
practical and really necessary to insert a third 
stage between these two or, if one prefers, to 
divide the first stage of autoerotism into two. In 
this intermediary stage, the importance of which 
increases the more we investigate it, the sexual 
impulses which formerly were separate, have al- 
ready formed into a unit and have also found an 
object; but this object is not external and foreign 
to the individual, but is his own ego, which is 
formed at this period. This new stage is called 
narcism, in view of the pathological fixation of 
this condition which may be observed later on. 
The individual acts as if he were in love with 
himself; for the purposes of our analysis the ego 
impulses and the libidinous wishes cannot yet be 
separated from each other. 

Although this narcistic stage, in which the hith- 
erto dissociated sexual impulses combine into a 
unity and take the ego as their object, cannot as 
yet be sharply differentiated, we can already 
surmise that the narcistic organization is never 
altogether given up again. To a certain extent 
man remains narcistic, even after he has found 
outer objects for his libido, and the objects upon 
which he bestows it represent, as it were, emana- 
tions of the libido which remain with his ego and 


which can be withdrawn into it. The state of 
being in love, so remarkable psychologically, and 
the normal prototype of the psychoses, corre- 
sponds to the highest stage of these emanations, 
in contrast to the state of self-love. 

This high estimation of psychic acts found 
among primitives and neurotics, which we feel to 
be an overestimation, may now appropriately be 
brought into relation to narcism, and interpreted 
as an essential part of it. We would say that 
among primitive people thinking is still highly 
sexualized and that this accounts for the belief 
in the omnipotence of thought, the unshaken 
confidence in the capacity to dominate the world 
and the inaccessibility to the obvious facts which 
could enlighten man as to his real place in the 
world. In the case of neurotics a considerable 
part of this primitive attitude has remained as 
a constitutional factor, while on the other hand 
the sexual repression occurring in them has 
brought about a new sexualization of the proc- 
esses of thought. In both cases, whether we deal 
with an original libidinous investment of thought 
or whether the same process has been accom- 
plished regressively, the psychic results are the 
same, namely, intellectual narcism and omnipo- 
tence of thought. 28 

28 It is almost an axiom with writers on this subject, that a sort 
of "Solipsism or Berkleianism" (as Professor Sully terms it as 


If we may take the now established omnipo- 
tence of thought among primitive races as a 
proof of their narcism, we may venture to com- 
pare the various evolutionary stages of man's 
conception of the universe with the stages of the 
libidinous evolution of the individual. We find 
that the animistic phase corresponds in time as 
well as in content with narcism, the religious 
phase corresponds to that stage of object finding 
which is characterized by dependence on the par- 
ents, while the scientific stage has its full counter- 
part in the individual's state of maturity where, 
having renounced the pleasure principle and hav- 
ing adapted himself to reality, he seeks his ob- 
ject in the outer world. 29 

Only in one field has the omnipotence of 
thought been retained in our own civilization, 
namely in art. In art alone it still happens that 
man, consumed by his wishes, produces some- 
thing similar to the gratification of these wishes 
and this playing, thanks to artistic illusion, calls 
forth affects as if it were something real. We 
rightly speak of the magic of art and compare the 
artist with a magician. But this comparison is 

he finds it in the child) operates in the savage to make him refuse 
to recognize death as a fact. — Marett, "Pre-animistic Religion, 
Folklore," Vol. XI, 1900, p. 178. 

29 We merely wish to indicate here that the original narcism of 
the child is decisive for the interpretation of its character de- 
velopment and that it precludes the assumption of a primitive 
feeling of inferiority for the child. 


perhaps more important than it claims to be. 
Art, which certainly did not begin as art for art's 
sake, originally served tendencies which to-day 
have for the greater part ceased to exist. 
Among these we may suspect various magic in- 
tentions. 30 


Animism, the first conception of the world 
which man succeeded in evolving, was therefore 
psychological. It did not yet require any 
science to establish it, for science sets in only after 
we have realized that we do not know the world 
and that we must therefore seek means of getting 
to know it. But animism was natural and self- 
evident to primitive man ; he knew how the things 
of the world were constituted, and as man con- 
ceived himself to be. We are therefore prepared 
to find that primitive man transferred the struc- 

30 S. Reinach, "L'art et la Magie," in the collection, "Cultes, 
Mythes et Religions," Vol. I, p. 125-136. Reinach thinks that the 
primitive artists who have left us the scratched or painted animal 
pictures in the caves of France did not want to "arouse" pleasure, 
but to "conjure things." He explains this by showing that these 
drawings are in the darkest and most inaccessible part of the 
caves and that representations of feared beasts of prey are absent. 
"Les modernes parlent souvent, par hyperbole, de la magie du 
pinceau ou du ciseau d'un grand artiste et, en general, de la 
magie de Fart. Entendu en sense propre, qui est celui d'une con- 
strainte mystique exercee par la volont£ de l'homme sur d'autres 
volontes ou sur les choses, cette expression n'est plus admissible; 
mais nous avons vu qu'elle 6tait autrefois rigouresement vraie, du 
moins dans l'opinion des artistes" (p. 136). 


tural relations of his own psyche to the outer 
world, 31 and on the other hand we may make the 
attempt to transfer back into the human soul 
what animism teaches about the nature of things. 

Magic, the technique of animism, clearly and 
unmistakably shows the tendency of forcing the 
laws of psychic life upon the reality of things, 
under conditions where spirits did not yet have 
to play any role, and could still be taken as 
objects of magic treatment. The assumptions 
of magic are therefore of older origin than the 
spirit theory, which forms the nucleus of ani- 
mism. Our psychoanalytic view here coincides 
with a theory of R. R. Marett, according to 
which animism is preceded by a pre-animistic 
stage the nature of which is best indicated by 
the name Animatism (the theory of general ani- 
mation) . We have practically no further knowl- 
edge of pre-animism, as no race has yet been 
found without conceptions of spirits. 32 

While magic still retains the full omnipotence 
of ideas, animism has ceded part of this omnipo- 
tence to spirits and thus has started on the way 
to form a religion. Now what could have moved 
primitive man to this first act of renunciation? 
It could hardly have been an insight into the in- 

3i Recognized through so-called endopsychic perceptions. 

32 R. R. Marett, "Pre-animistic Religion, Folklore," Vol. XI, 
No. 2, London, 1900.— Comp. Wundt, "Myth and Religion," Vol. 
II, p. 171. 


correctness of his assumptions, for he continued 
to retain the magic technique. 

As pointed out elsewhere, spirits and demons 
were nothing but the projection of primitive 
man's emotional impulses; 33 he personified the 
things he endowed with affects, populated the 
world with them and then rediscovered his inner 
psychic processes outside himself, quite like the 
ingenious paranoiac Schreber, who found the 
fixations and detachments of his libido reflected 
in the fates of the "God-rays" which he in- 
vented. 34 

As on a former occasion, 35 we want to avoid the 
problem as to the origin of the tendency to pro- 
ject psychic processes into the outer world. It 
is fair to assume, however, that this tendency be- 
comes stronger where the projection into the 
outer world offers psychic relief. Such a state 
of affairs can with certainty be expected if the 
impulses struggling for omnipotence have come 
into conflict with each other, for then they evi- 
dently cannot all become omnipotent. The mor- 

33 We assume that in this early nareistic stage feelings from 
libidinous and other sources of excitement are perhaps still indis- 
tinguishably combined with each other. 

34 Schreber, "Denwiirdigkeiten eines Nervenkranken," 1903. — 
Freud, Psychoanalytic Observations concerning an autobiog- 
raphically described case of Paranoia, "Jahrbuch fur Psycho- 
analyt. Forsch," Vol. Ill, 1911. 

35 Compare the latest communication about the Schreber case, 
p. 59. 


bid process in paranoia actually uses the mechan- 
ism of projection to solve such conflicts which 
arise in the psychic life. However, it so hap- 
pens that the model case of such a conflict be- 
tween two parts of an antithesis is the ambivalent 
attitude which we have analyzed in detail in the 
situation of the mourner at the death of one dear 
to him. Such a case appeals to us as especially 
fitted to motivate the creation of projection 
formations. Here again we are in agreement 
with those authors who declare that evil spirits 
were the first born among spirits, and who find 
the origin of soul conceptions in the impression 
which death makes upon the survivors. We dif- 
fer from them only in not putting the intellec- 
tual problem which death imposes upon the living 
into the foreground, instead of which we trans- 
fer the force which stimulates inquiry to the con- 
flict of feelings into which this situation plunges 
the survivor. 

The first theoretical accomplishment of man, 
the creation of spirits, would therefore spring 
from the same source as the first moral restric- 
tions to which he subjects himself, namely, the 
rules of taboo. But the fact that thev have the 
same source should not prejudice us in favor of 
a simultaneous origin. If it really were the situa- 
tion of the survivor confronted by the dead which 
first caused primitive man to reflect, so that he 


was compelled to surrender some of his omnipo- 
tence to spirits and to sacrifice a part of the free 
will of his actions, these cultural creations would 
be a first recognition of the foray kij, which opposes 
man's narcism. Primitive man would bow to 
the superior power of death with the same ges- 
ture with which he seems to deny it. 

If we have the courage to follow our assump- 
tions further, we may ask what essential part of 
our psychological structure is reflected and re- 
viewed in the projection formation of souls and 
spirits. It is then difficult to dispute that the 
primitive conception of the soul, though still far 
removed from the later and wholly immaterial 
soul, nevertheless shares its nature and therefore 
looks upon a person or thing as a duality, over 
the two elements of which the known properties 
and changes of the whole are distributed. This 
origin duality, we have borrowed the term from 
Herbert Spencer, 36 is already identical with the 
dualism which manifests itself in our customary 
separation of spirit from body, and whose inde- 
structible linguistic manifestations we recognize, 
for instance, in the description of a person who 
faints or raves as one who is "beside himself." 37 

The thing which we, just like primitive man, 
project into outer reality, can hardly be anything 

36 "Principles of Sociology," Vol. I. 

37 Herbert Spencer, 1. c, p. 179. 


else than the recognition of a state in which a 
given thing is present to the senses and to con- 
sciousness, next to which another state exists in 
which the thing is latent, but can reappear, that 
is to say, the co-existence of perception and mem- 
ory, or, to generalize it, the existence of uncon- 
scious psychic processes next to conscious ones. 38 
It might be said that in the last analysis the 
"spirit" of a person or a thing is the faculty of 
remembering and representing the object, after 
he or it was withdrawn from conscious percep- 

Of course we must not expect from either the 
primitive or the current conception of the "soul" 
that its line of demarcation from other parts 
should be as marked as that which contemporary 
science draws between conscious and unconscious 
psychic activity. The animistic soul, on the con- 
trary, unites determinants from both sides. Its 
flightiness and mobility, its faculty of leaving 
the body, of permanently or temporarily taking 
possession of another body, all these are char- 
acteristics which remind us unmistakably of the 
nature of consciousness. But the way in which 
it keeps itself concealed behind the personal ap- 
pearance reminds us of the unconscious; to-day 

38 Compare my short paper: "A Note on the Unconscious in 
Psychoanalysis," in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical 
Research, Part LXVI, Vol. XXVI, London, 1912. 


we no longer ascribe its unchangeableness and 
indestructibility to conscious but to unconscious 
processes and look upon these as the real bear- 
ers of psychic activity. 

We said before that animism is a system of 
thought, the first complete theory of the world; 
we now want to draw certain inferences through 
psychoanalytic interpretation of such a system. 
Our everyday experience is capable of constantly 
showing us the main characteristics of the "sys- 
tem." We dream during the night and have 
learnt to interpret the dream in the daytime. 
The dream can, without being untrue to its na- 
ture, appear confused and incoherent ; but on the 
other hand it can also imitate the order of im- 
pressions of an experience, infer one occurrence 
from another, and refer one part of its content 
to another. The dream succeeds more or less 
in this, but hardly ever succeeds so completely 
that an absurdity or a gap in the structure does 
not appear somewhere. If we subject the dream 
to interpretation we find that this unstable and 
irregular order of its components is quite un- 
important for our understanding of it. The es- 
sential part of the dream are the dream thoughts, 
which have, to be sure, a significant, coherent 
order. But their order is quite different from 
that which we remember from the manifest con- 
tent of the dream. The coherence of the dream 


thoughts has been abolished and may either re- 
main altogether lost or can be replaced by the 
new coherence of the dream content. Besides 
the condensation of the dream elements there is 
almost regularly a re-grouping of the same which 
is more or less independent of the former order. 
We say in conclusion, that what the dream-work 
has made out of the material of the dream 
thoughts has been subjected to a new influence, 
the so-called "secondary elaboration," the object 
of which evidently is to do away with the inco- 
herence and incomprehensibility caused by the 
dream- work, in favor of a new "meaning." This 
new meaning which has been brought about by 
the secondary elaboration is no longer the mean- 
ing of the dream thoughts. 

The secondary elaboration of the product of 
the dream-work is an excellent example of the 
nature and the pretensions of a system. An in- 
tellectual function in us demands the unification, 
coherence and comprehensibility of everything 
perceived and thought of, and does not hesitate 
to construct a false connection if, as a result of 
special circumstances, it cannot grasp the right 
one. We know such system formations not only 
from the dream, but also from phobias, from com- 
pulsive thinking and from the types of delusions. 
The system formation is most ingenious in de- 
lusional states (paranoia) and dominates the 


clinical picture, but it also must not be overlooked 
in other forms of neuropsychoses. In every case 
we can show that a re- arrangement of the psychic 
material takes place, which may often be quite 
violent, provided it seems comprehensible from 
the point of view of the system. The best indi- 
cation that a system has been formed then lies 
in the fact that each result of it can be shown to 
have at least two motivations one of which 
springs from the assumptions of the system and 
is therefore eventually delusional, — and a hid- 
den one which, however, we must recognize as 
the real and effective motivation. 

An example from a neurosis may serve as il- 
lustration. In the chapter on taboo I mentioned 
a patient whose compulsive prohibitions corre- 
spond very neatly to the taboo of the Maori. 39 
The neurosis of this woman was directed against 
her husband and culminated in the defense 
against the unconscious wish for his death. But 
her manifest systematic phobia concerned the 
mention of death in general, in which her hus- 
band was altogether eliminated and never be- 
came the object of conscious solicitude. One 
day she heard her husband give an order to have 
his dull razors taken to a certain shop to have 
them sharpened. Impelled by a peculiar un- 
rest she went to the shop herself and on her re- 

8» p. 26. 


turn from this reconnoiter she asked her husband 
to lay the razors aside for good because she had 
discovered that there was a warehouse of coffins 
and funeral accessories next to the shop he men- 
tioned. She claimed that he had intentionally 
brought the razors into permanent relation with 
the idea of death. This was then the systematic 
motivation of the prohibition, but we may be 
sure that the patient would have brought home 
the prohibition relating to the razors even if she 
had not discovered this warehouse in the neigh- 
borhood. For it would have been sufficient if on 
her way to the shop she had met a hearse, a 
person in mourning, or somebody carrying a 
wreath. The net of determinants was spread 
out far enough to catch the prey in any case, it 
was simply a question whether she should pull it 
in or not. It could be established with certainty 
that she did not mobilize the determinants of the 
prohibition in other circumstances. She would 
then have said that it had been one of her "better 
days." The real reason for the prohibition of 
the razor was, of course, as we can easily guess, 
her resistance against a pleasurably accentuated 
idea that her husband might cut his throat with 
the sharpened razors. 

In much the same way a motor inhibition, an 
abasia or an agoraphobia, becomes perfected and 
detailed if the symptom once succeeds in repre- 


senting an unconscious wish and of imposing a 
defense against it. All the patient's remaining 
unconscious phantasies and effective reminis- 
cences strive for symptomatic expression through 
this outlet, when once it has been opened, and 
range themselves appropriately in the new order 
within the sphere of the disturbance of gait. It 
would therefore be a futile and really foolish way 
to begin to try to understand the sympto- 
matic structure and the details of, let us say, an 
agoraphobia, in terms of its basic assumptions. 
For the whole logic and strictness of connection 
is only apparent. Sharper observation can re- 
veal, as in the formation of the facade in the 
dream, the greatest inconsistency and arbitrari- 
ness in the symptom formation. The details of 
such a systematic phobia take their real motiva- 
tion from concealed determinants which must 
have nothing to do with the inhibition in gait; 
it is for this reason that the form of such a phobia 
varies so and is so contradictory in different 

If we now attempt to retrace the system of 
animism with which we are concerned, we may 
conclude from our insight into other psycho- 
logical systems that "superstition" need not be 
the only and actual motivation of such a single 
rule or custom even among primitive races, and 
that we are not relieved of the obligation of seek- 


ing for concealed motives. Under the domi- 
nance of an animistic system it is absolutely es- 
sential that each rule and activity should receive 
a systematic motivation which we to-day call 
"superstitious." But "superstition," like "anxi- 
ety," "dreams," and "demons," is one of the pre- 
liminaries of psychology which have been dis- 
sipated by psychoanalytic investigation. If we 
get behind these structures, which like a screen 
conceal understanding, we realize that the psychic 
life and the cultural level of savages have hitherto 
been inadequately appreciated. 

If we regard the repression of impulses as a 
measure of the level of culture attained, we must 
admit that under the animistic system too, prog- 
ress and evolution have taken place, which un- 
justly have been under-estimated on account of 
their superstitious motivation. If we hear that 
the warriors of a savage tribe impose the great- 
est chastity and cleanliness upon themselves as 
soon as they go upon the war-path, 40 the obvious 
explanation is that they dispose of their refuse 
in order that the enemy may not come into posses- 
sion of this part of their person in order to harm 
them by magical means, and we may surmise 
analogous superstitious motivations for their ab- 
stinence. Nevertheless the fact remains that the 
impulse is renounced and we probably under- 
go Frazer, "Taboo and the Perils of the Soul, p. 158. 


stand the case better if we assume that the sav- 
age warrior imposes such restrictions upon him- 
self in compensation, because he is on the point 
of allowing himself the full satisfaction of cruel 
and hostile impulses otherwise forbidden. The 
same holds good for the numerous cases of sex- 
ual restriction while he is pre-occupied with diffi- 
cult or responsible tasks. 41 Even if the basis of 
these prohibitions can be referred to some asso- 
ciation with magic, the fundamental conception 
of gaining greater strength by foregoing grati- 
fication of desires nevertheless remains unmistak- 
able, and besides the magic rationalization of the 
prohibition, one must not neglect its hygienic 
root. When the men of a savage tribe go away 
to hunt, fish, make war or collect valuable plants, 
the women at home are in the meantime subjected 
to numerous oppressive restrictions which, ac- 
cording to the savages themselves, exert a sym- 
pathetic effect upon the success of the far away 
expedition. But it does not require much acu- 
men to guess that this element acting at a dis- 
tance is nothing but a thought of home, the 
longing of the absent, and that these disguises 
conceal the sound psychological insight that the 
men will do their best only if they are fully as- 
sured of the whereabouts of their guarded 

4i Frazer, 1. c, p. 200. 


women. On other occasions the thought is di- 
rectly expressed without magic motivation, that 
the conjugal infidelity of the wife thwarts the 
absent husband's efforts. 

The countless taboo rules to which the women 
of savages are subject during their menstrual 
periods are motivated by the superstitious dread 
of blood which in all probability actually deter- 
mines it. But it would be wrong to overlook the 
possibility that this blood dread also serves 
aesthetic and hygienic purposes which in every 
case have to be covered by magic motivations. 

We are probably not mistaken in assuming 
that such attempted explanations expose us to 
the reproach of attributing a most improbable 
delicacy of psychic activities to contemporary 

But I think that we may easily make the same 
mistake with the psychology of these races who 
have remained at the animistic stage that we 
made with the psychic life of the child, which we 
adults understood no better and whose richness 
and fineness of feeling we have therefore so 
greatly undervalued. 

I want to consider another group of hitherto 
unexplained taboo rules because they admit of 
an explanation with which the psychoanalyst is 
familiar. Under certain conditions it is forbid- 


den to many savage races to keep in the house 
sharp weapons and instruments for cutting. 42 
Frazer cites a German superstition that a knife 
must not be left lying with the edge pointing up- 
ward because God and the angels might injure 
themselves with it. May we not recognize in this 
taboo a premonition of certain "symptomatic 
actions " 43 for which the sharp weapon might be 
used by unconscious evil impulses? 

42 Frazer, 1. c, p. 237. 

43 Freud, "Psychopathology of Everyday Life," p. 215, trans, 
by A. A. Brill (The Macmillan Company, N. Y., and T. Fisher 
Unwin, London). 



The reader need not fear that psychoanalysis, 
which first revealed the regular over-determina- 
tion of psychic acts and formations, will be 
tempted to derive anything so complicated as 
religion from a single source. If it necessarily 
seeks, as in duty bound, to gain recognition for 
one of the sources of this institution, it by no 
means claims exclusiveness for this source or 
even first rank among the concurring factors. 
Only a synthesis from various fields of research 
can decide what relative importance in the gene- 
sis of religion is to be assigned to the mechanism 
which we are to discuss; but such a task exceeds 
the means as well as the intentions of the psy- 


The first chapter of this book made us ac- 
quainted with the conception of totemism. We 
heard that totemism is a system which takes the 
place of religion among certain primitive races 
in Australia, America, and Africa, and furnishes 
the basis of social organization. We know that 



in 1869 the Scotchman MacLennan attracted 
general interest to the phenomena of totemism, 
which until then had been considered merely as 
curiosities, by his conjecture that a large number 
of customs and usages in various old as well as 
modern societies were to be taken as remnants 
of a totemic epoch. Science has since then fully 
recognized this significance of totemism. I 
quote a passage from the "Elements of the 
Psychology of Races" by W. Wundt (1912), as 
the latest utterance on this question: * "Tak- 
ing all this together it becomes highly probable 
that a totemic culture was at one time the pre- 
liminary stage of every later evolution as well as 
a transition stage between the state of primitive 
man and the age of gods and heroes." 

It is necessary for the purposes of this chapter 
to go more deeply into the nature of totemism. 
For reasons that will be evident later I here give 
preference to an outline b}^ S. Reinach, who in 
the year 1900 sketched the following Code du 
totemism in twelve articles, like a catechism of 
the totemic religion : 2 

1. Certain animals must not be killed or eaten, 
but men bring up individual animals of these 
species and take care of them. 

ip. 139. 

2 "Revue Scientifique," October, 1900, reprinted in the four 
volume work of the author, "Cultes, Mythes et Religions," 1908, 
Tome I, p. 17. 


2. An animal that dies accidentally is 
mourned and buried with the same honors as a 
member of the tribe. 

3. The prohibition as to eating sometimes re- 
fers only to a certain part of the animal. 

4. If pressure of necessity compels the killing 
of an animal usually spared, it is done with ex- 
cuses to the animal and the attempt is made to 
mitigate the violation of the taboo, namely the 
killing, through various tricks and evasions. 

5. If the animal is sacrificed by ritual, it is 
solemnly mourned. 

6. At specified solemn occasions, like religious 
ceremonies, the skins of certain animals are 
donned. Where totemism still exists, these are 
totem animals. 

7. Tribes and individuals assume the names of 
totem animals. 

8. Many tribes use pictures of animals as 
coats of arms and decorate their weapons with 
them; the men paint animal pictures on their 
bodies or have them tattooed. 

9. If the totem is one of the feared and 
dangerous animals it is assumed that the animal 
will spare the members of the tribe named after 

10. The totem animal protects and warns the 
members of the tribe. 

11. The totem animal foretells the future to 


those faithful to it and serves as their leader. 

12. The members of a totem tribe often be- 
lieve that they are connected with the totem 
animal by the bond of common origin. 

The value of this catechism of the totem re- 
ligion can be more appreciated if one bears in 
mind that Reinach has here also incorporated all 
the signs and clews which lead to the conclusion 
that the totemic system had once existed. The 
peculiar attitude of this author to the problem 
is shown by the fact that to some extent he neg- 
lects the essential traits of totemism, and we 
shall see that of the two main tenets of the totem- 
istic catechism he has forced one into the back- 
ground and completely lost sight of the other. 

In order to get a more correct picture of the 
characteristics of totemism we turn to an author 
who has devoted four volumes to the theme, 
combining the most complete collection of the 
observations in question with the most thorough 
discussion of the problems they raise. We shall 
remain indebted to J. G. Frazer, the author 
of "Totemism and Exogamy," 3 for the pleasure 
and information he affords, even though psy- 
choanalytic investigation may lead us to results 
which differ widely from his. 4 

3 1910. 

* But it may be well to show the reader beforehand how difficult 
it is to establish the facts in this field. 


"A totem," wrote Frazer in his first essay, 5 
"is a class of material objects which a savage re- 
gards with superstitious respect, believing that 
there exists between him and every member of 
the class an intimate and altogether special rela- 
tion. The connection between a person and his 

In the first place those who collect the observations are not 
identical with those who digest and discuss them; the first are 
travelers and missionaries, while the others are scientific men who 
perhaps have never seen the objects of their research. — It is not 
easy to establish an understanding with savages. Not all the 
observers were familiar with the languages but had to use the 
assistance of interpreters or else had to communicate with the 
people they questioned in the auxiliary language of pidgin-Eng- 
lish. Savages are not communicative about the most intimate 
affairs of their culture and unburden themselves only to those for- 
eigners who have passed many years in their midst. From 
various motives they often give wrong or misleading information. 
(Compare Frazer, "The Beginnings of Religion and Totemism 
Among the Australian Aborigines," Fortnightly Review, 1905, 
"Totemism and Exogamy," Vol. I, p. 150). — It must not be for- 
gotten that primitive races are not young races but really are as 
old as the most civilized, and that we have no right to expect that 
they have preserved their original ideas and institutions for our 
information without anv evolution or distortion. It is certain, on 
the contrary, that far-reaching changes in all directions have 
taken place among primitive races, so that we can never unhes- 
itatingly decide which of their present conditions and opinions 
have preserved the original past, having remained petrified, as it 
were, and which represent a distortion and change of the original. 
It is due to this that one meets the many disputes among authors 
as to what proportion of the peculiarities of a primitive culture 
is to be taken as a primary, and what as a later and secondary 
manifestation. To establish the original conditions, therefore, 
always remains a matter of construction. Finally, it is not easy 
to adapt oneself to the ways of thinking of primitive races. For 
like children, we easily misunderstand them, and are always in- 
clined to interpret their acts and feelings according to our own 
psychic constellations. 

s "Totemism," Edinburgh, 1887, reprinted in the first volume of 
his great study, "Totemism and Exogamy." 


totem is mutually beneficent; the totem protects 
the man and the man shows his respect for the 
totem in various ways, by not killing it if it be 
an animal, and not cutting or gathering it if it 
be a plant. As distinguished from a fetich, a 
totem is never an isolated individual but always 
a class of objects, generally a species of animals 
or of plants, more rarely a class of inanimate 
natural objects, very rarely a class of artificial 

At least three kinds of totem can be distin- 
guished : 

1. The tribal totem which a whole tribe shares 
and which is hereditary from generation to gen- 

2. The sex totem which belongs to all the 
masculine or feminine members of a tribe to the 
exclusion of the opposite sex, and 

3. The individual totem which belongs to the 
individual and does not descend to his successors. 

The last two kinds of totem are of compara- 
tively little importance compared to the tribal 
totem. Unless we are mistaken they are recent 
formations and of little importance as far as the 
nature of the taboo is concerned. 

The tribal totem (clan totem) is the object of 
veneration of a group of men and women who 
take their name from the totem and consider 
themselves consanguinous offspring of a com- 


mon ancestor, and who are firmly associated with 
each other through common obligations towards 
each other as well as by the belief in their totem. 

Totemism is a religious as well as a social 
system. On its religious side it consists of the 
relations of mutual respect and consideration 
between a person and his totem, and on its social 
side it is composed of obligations of the members 
of the clan towards each other and towards other 
tribes. In the later history of totemism these 
two sides show a tendency to part company; the 
social system often survives the religious and 
conversely remnants of totemism remain in the 
religion of countries in which the social system 
based upon totemism has disappeared. In the 
present state of our ignorance about the origin 
of totemism we cannot say with certainty how 
these two sides were originally combined. But 
there is on the whole a strong probability that in 
the beginning the two sides of totemism were 
indistinguishable from each other. In other 
words, the further we go back the clearer it be- 
comes that a member of a tribe looks upon him- 
self as being of the same genus as his totem and 
makes no distinction between his attitude to- 
wards the totem and his attitude towards his 
tribal companions. 

In the special description of totemism as a 
religious system, Frazer lays stress on the fact 


that the members of a tribe assume the name 
of their totem and also as a rule believe that they 
are descended from it. It is due to this belief 
that they do not hunt the totem animal or kill 
or eat it, and that they deny themselves every 
other use of the totem if it is not an animal. 
The prohibitions against killing or eating the 
totem are not the only taboos affecting it ; some- 
times it is also forbidden to touch it and even to 
look at it; in a number of cases the totem must 
not be called by its right name. Violation of the 
taboo prohibitions which protect the totem is 
punished automatically by serious disease or 
death. 6 

Specimens of the totem animals are sometimes 
raised by the clan and taken care of in cap- 
tivity. 7 A totem animal found dead is mourned 
and buried like a member of the clan. If a totem 
animal had to be killed it was done with a pre- 
scribed ritual of excuses and ceremonies of ex- 

The tribe expected protection and forbear- 
ance from it's totem. If it was a dangerous 
animal, (a beast of prey or a poisonous snake), 
it was assumed that it would not harm, and 
where this assumption did not come true the per- 

6 Compare the chapter on Taboo. 

7 Just as to-day we still have the wolves in a cage at the steps of 
the Capitol in Rome and the bears in the pit at Berne. 


son attacked was expelled from the tribe. 
Frazer thinks that oaths were originally ordeals, 
many tests as to descent and genuineness being 
in this way left to the decision of the totem. 
The totem helps in case of illness and gives the 
tribe premonitions and warnings. The appear- 
ance of the totem animal near a house was often 
looked upon as an announcement of death. 
The totem had come to get its relative. 8 

A member of a clan seeks to emphasize his re- 
lationship to the totem in various significant 
ways ; he imitates an exterior similarity by dress- 
ing himself in the skin of the totem animal, by 
having the picture of it tattooed upon himself, 
and in other ways. On the solemn occasions of 
birth, initiation into manhood or funeral obse- 
quies this identification with the totem is carried 
out in deeds and words. Dances in which all 
the members of the tribe disguise themselves as 
their totem and act like it, serve various magic 
and religious purposes. Finally there are the 
ceremonies at which the totem animal is killed 
in a solemn manner. 9 

The social side of totemism is primarily ex- 
pressed in a sternly observed commandment and 
in a tremendous restriction. The members of 
a totem clan are brothers and sisters, pledged to 

8 Like the legend of the white woman in many noble families. 
» 1. c, p. 45. — See the discussion of sacrifice further on. 


help and protect each other; if a member of the 
clan is slain by a stranger the whole tribe of the 
slayer must answer for the murder and the clan 
of the slain man shows its solidarity in the de- 
mand for expiation for the blood that has been 
shed. The ties of the totem are stronger than 
our ideas of family ties, with which they do not 
altogether coincide, since the transfer of the 
totem takes place as a rule through maternal 
inheritance, paternal inheritance possibly not 
counting at all in the beginning. 

But the corresponding taboo restriction con- 
sists in the prohibition against members of the 
same clan marrying each other or having any 
kind of sexual intercourse whatsoever with each 
other. This is the famous and enigmatic 
eocogamy connection with totemism. We have 
devoted the whole first chapter of this book to 
it, and therefore need only mention here that 
this exogamy springs from the intensified incest 
dread of primitive races, that it becomes entirely 
comprehensible as a security against incest in 
group marriages, and that at first it accomplishes 
the avoidance of incest for the younger genera- 
tion and only in the course of further develop- 
ment becomes a hindrance to the older genera- 
tion as well. 10 

To this presentation of totemism by Frazer, 

10 See Chapter I. 


one of the earliest in the literature on the sub- 
ject, I will now add a few excerpts from one of 
the latest summaries. In the "Elements of the 
Psychology of Races" which appeared in 1912, 
W. Wundt says: ]1 "The totem animal is con- 
sidered the ancestral animal. 'Totem' is there- 
fore both a group name and a birth name and 
in the latter aspect this name has at the same 
time a mythological meaning. But all these 
uses of the conception play into each other and 
the particular meanings may recede so that in 
some cases the totems have become almost a 
mere nomenclature of the tribal divisions, while 
in others the idea of the descent or else the 
cultic meaning of the totem remains in the fore- 
ground. . . . The conception of the totem de- 
termines the tribal arrangement and the tribal* 
organization. These norms and their establish- 
ment in the belief and feelings of the members 
of the tribe account for the fact that originally 
the totem animal was certainly not considered 
merely a name for a group division but that it 
usually was considered the progenitor of the cor- 
responding division. . . . This accounted for 
the fact that these animal ancestors enjoyed a 
cult. . . . This animal cult expresses itself 
primarily in the attitude towards the totem ani- 
mal, quite aside from special ceremonies and 

11 p, 116. 


ceremonial festivities: not only each individual 
animal but every representative of the same 
species was to a certain degree a sanctified ani- 
mal; the member of the totem was forbidden to 
eat the flesh of the totem animal or he was al- 
lowed to eat it only under special circumstances. 
This is in accord with the significant contra- 
dictory phenomenon found in this connection, 
namely, that under certain conditions there was 
a kind of ceremonial consumption of the totem 
flesh. . . ." 

"• . . But the most important social side of 
this totemic tribal arrangement consists in the 
fact that it was connected with certain rules of 
conduct for the relations of the groups with each 
other. The most important of these were the 
rules of conjugal relations. This tribal di- 
vision is thus connected with an important phe- 
nomenon which first made its appearance in the 
totemic age, namely with exogamy." 

If we wish to arrive at the characteristics of 
the original totemism by sifting through every- 
thing that may correspond to later development 
or decline, we find the following essential facts: 
The totems were originally only animals and 
were considered the ancestors of single tribes. 
The totem was hereditary only through the 
female line; it was forbidden to hill the totem 
(or to eat it, which under primitive conditions 


amounts to the same thing) ; members of a totem, 
were forbidden to have sexual intercourse with 
each other. 12 

It may now seem strange to us that in the 
Code du totemisvie which Reinach has drawn up 
the one principal taboo, namely exogamy, does 
not appear at all while the assumption of the 
second taboo, namely the descent from the to- 
tem animal, is only casually mentioned. Yet 
Reinach is an author to whose work in this field 
we owe much and I have chosen his presentation 
in order to prepare us for the differences of 
opinion among the authors, which will now oc- 
cupy our attention. 


The more convinced we became that totemism 
had regularly formed a phase of eveiy culture, 

12 The conclusion which Frazer draws about totemism in his 
second work on the subject ("The Origin of Totemism," Fort- 
night Review, 1899) agrees with this text: "Thus, totemism has 
commonly been treated as a primitive system both of religion and 
of society. As a system of religion it embraces the mystic union 
of the savage with his totem; as a system of society it comprises 
the relations in which men and women of the same totem stand to 
each other and to the members of other totemic groups. And 
corresponding to these two sides of the system are two rough-and- 
ready tests or canons of totemism: first, the rule that a man may 
not kill or eat his totem animal or plant, and second, the rule that 
he may not marry or cohabit with a woman of the same totem." 
(p. 101.) Frazer then adds something which takes us into the 
midst of the discussion about totemism: "Whether the two sides 
— the religious and the social — have always coexisted or are essen- 
tially independent, is a question which has been variously 


the more urgent became the necessity of arriving 
at an understanding of it and of casting light 
upon the riddle of its nature. To be sure, every- 
thing about totemism is in the nature of a riddle ; 
the decisive questions are the origin of the totem, 
the motivation of exogamy (or rather of the in- 
cest taboo which it represents) and the relation 
between the two, the totem organization and the 
incest prohibition. The understanding should 
be at once historical and psychological ; it should 
inform us under what conditions this peculiar 
institution developed and to what psychic needs 
of man it has given expression. 

The reader will certainly be astonished to 
hear from how many different points of view 
the answer to these questions has been attempted 
and how far the opinions of expert investigators 
vary. Almost everything that might be asserted 
in general about totemism is doubtful; even the 
above statement of it, taken from an article by 
Frazer in 1887, cannot escape the criticism that 
it expresses an arbitrary preference of the author 
and would be challenged to-day by Frazer him- 
self, who has repeatedly changed his view on the 
subject. 13 

13 In connection with such a change of opinion Frazer made this 
excellent statement: "That my conclusions on these difficult ques- 
tions are final, I am not so foolish as to pretend. I have changed 
my views repeatedly, and I am resolved to change them again with 
every change of the evidence, for like a chameleon the enquirer 


It is quite obvious that the nature of totemism 
and exogamy could be most readily grasped if 
we could get into closer touch with the origin 
of both institutions. But in judging the state of 
affairs we must not forget the remark of Andrew 
Lang, that even primitive races have not pre- 
served these original forms and the conditions 
of their origin, so that we are altogether depend- 
ent upon hypotheses to take the place of the 
observation we lack. 14 Among the attempted 
explanations some seem inadequate from the 
very beginning in the judgment of the psycholo- 
gist. They are altogether too rational and do 
not take into consideration the effective character 
of what they are to explain. Others rest on 
assumptions which observation fails to verify; 
while still others appeal to facts which could bet- 
ter be subjected to another interpretation. The 
refutation of these various opinions as a rule 
hardly presents any difficulties; the authors are, 
as usual, stronger in the criticism which they 
practice on each other than in their own work. 
The final result as regards most of the points 
treated is a non liquet. It is therefore not sur- 

should shift his colours with the shifting colours of the ground he 
treads." Preface to Vol. I, "Totemism and Exogamy," 1910. 

14 "By the nature of the case, as the origin of totemism lies far 
beyond our powers of historical examination or of experiment, we 
must have recourse as regards this matter, to conjecture," Andrew 
Lang, "Secret of the Totem," p. 27. — "Nowhere do we see abso- 
lutely primitive man, and a totemic system in the making," p. 29. 


prising that most of the new literature on the 
subject, which we have largely omitted here, 
shows the unmistakable effort to reject a gen- 
eral solution of totemic problems as unfeasible. 
(See, for instance, B. Goldenweiser in the Jour- 
nal of American Folklore XXIII, 1910. Re- 
viewed in the Britannica Year Book 1913.) I 
have taken the liberty of disregarding the 
chronological order in stating these contra- 
dictory hypotheses. 

a) The Origin of Totemism 

The question of the origin of totemism can 
also be formulated as follows: How did primi- 
tive people come to select the names of animals, 
plants and inanimate objects for themselves and 
their tribes ? 15 

The Scotchman, MacLennan, who discovered 
totemism and exogamy for science, 16 refrained 
from publishing his views of the origin of totem- 
ism. According to a communication of Andrew 
Lang 17 he was for a time inclined to trace totem- 
ism back to the custom of tattooing. I shall di- 
vide the accepted theories of the derivation of 

is At first probably only animals. 

™"The Worship of Animals and Plants," Fortnightly Review, 
1869-1870. "Primitive Marriage," 1865; both works reprinted in 
"Studies in Ancient History," 1876; second edition, 1886. 

17 "The Secret of the Totem," 1905, p. 34. 


totemism into three groups, <*) nominalistic, P) 
sociological, v) psychological. 

«) The Nominalistic Theories 

The information about these theories will jus- 
tify their summation under the headings I have 

Garcilaso de La Vega, a descendant of the 
Peruvian Inkas, who wrote the history of his 
race in the seventeenth century is already said 
to have traced back what was known to him 
about totemic phenomena to the need of the 
tribes to differentiate themselves from each other 
by means of names. 18 The same idea appears 
centuries later in the "Ethnology" of A. K. 
Keane where totems are said to be derived from 
heraldic badges through which individuals, fam- 
ilies and tribes wanted to differentiate them- 
selves. 19 

Max Muller expresses the same opinion about 
the meaning of the totem in his "Contributions to 
the Science of Mythology." 20 A totem is said to 
be, 1. a mark of the clan, 2. a clan name, 3. the 
name of the ancestor of the clan, 4. the name of 
the object which the clan reveres. J. Pikler 
wrote later, in 1899, that men needed a perma- 

is Ibid. 
i» Ibid. 
20 According to Andrew Lang. 


nent name for communities and individuals that 
could be preserved in writing. . . . Thus totem- 
ism arises, not from a religious, but from a pro- 
saic everyday need of mankind. The giving of 
names, which is the essence of totemism, is a 
result of the technique of primitive writing. 
The totem is of the nature of an easily repre- 
sented writing symbol. But if savages first bore 
the name of an animal they deduced the idea of 
relationship from this animal. 21 

Herbert Spencer, 22 also, thought that the 
origin of totemism was to be found in the giving 
of names. The attributes of certain individuals, 
he showed, had brought about their being named 
after animals so that they had come to have 
names of honor or nicknames which continued in 
their descendants. As a result of the indef- 
initeness and incomprehensibility of primitive 
languages, these names are said to have been 
taken by later generations as proof of their de- 
scent from the animals themselves. Totemism 
would thus be the result of a mistaken reverence 
for ancestors. 

Lord Avebury (better known under his for- 
mer name, Sir John Lubbock) has expressed 

21 Pikler and Sornl6, "The Origin of Totemism," 1901. The au- 
thors rightly call their attempt at explanation a "Contribution to 
the materialistic theory of History." 

22 "The Origin of Animal Worship," Fortnightly Review, 1870. 
"Principles of Psychology," Vol. I, paragraphs 169 to 176. 


himself quite similarly about the origin of 
totemism, though without emphasizing the mis- 
understanding. If we want to explain the 
veneration of animals we must not forget how 
often human names are borrowed from animals. 
The children and followers of a man who was 
called bear or lion naturally made this their an- 
cestral name. In this way it came about that 
the animal itself came to be respected and finally 

Fison has advanced what seems an irrefutable 
objection to such a derivation of the totem name 
from the names of individuals. 23 He shows 
from conditions in Australia that the totem is 
always the mark of a group of people and never 
of an individual. But if it were otherwise, if 
the totem was originally the name of a single 
individual, it could never, with the system of 
maternal inheritance, descend to his children. 

The theories thus far stated are evidently 
inadequate. They may explain how animal 
names came to be applied to primitive tribes but 
they can never explain the importance attached to 
the giving of names which constitutes the to- 
temic system. The most noteworthy theory of 
this group has been developed by Andrew Lang 
in his books, Social Origins, 1903, and The 

23Kamilaroi and Kurmai, p. 165, 1880 (Lang, "Secret of the 
Totem," etc.). 


Secret of the Totem, 1905. This theory still 
makes naming the center of the problem, but it 
uses two interesting psychological factors and 
thus may claim to have contributed to the final 
solution of the riddle of totemism. 

Andrew Lang holds that it does not make any 
difference how clans acquired their animal 
names. It might be assumed that one day they 
awoke to the consciousness that they had them 
without being able to account from where they 
came. The origin of these names had been for- 
gotten. In that case they would seek to acquire 
more information by pondering over their names, 
and with their conviction of the importance of 
names they necessarily came to all the ideas 
that are contained in the totemic system. For 
primitive men, as for savages of to-day and 
even for our children, 24 a name is not indifferent 
and conventional as it seems to us, but is some- 
thing important and essential. A man's name is 
one of the main constituents of his person and per- 
haps a part of his psyche. The fact that they had 
the same names as animals must have led primi- 
tive men to assume a secret and important bond 
between their persons and the particular animal 
species. What other bond than consanguinity 
could it be? But if the similarity of names once 
led to this assumption it could also account di- 

24 See the chapter on Taboo, p. 95. 


rectly for all the totemic prohibitions of the blood 
taboo, including exogamy. 

"No more than these three things — a group 
animal name of unknown origin; belief in a 
transcendental connection between all bearers, 
human and bestial, of the same name ; and belief 
in the blood superstitions — were needed to give 
rise to all the totemic creeds and practices, in- 
cluding exogamy," (Secret of The Totem, p. 

Lang's explanation extends over two periods. 
It derives the totemic system of psychological 
necessity from the totem names, on the assump- 
tion that the origin of the naming has been for- 
gotten. The other part of the theory now seeks 
to clear up the origin of these names. We shall 
see that it bears an entirely different stamp. 

This other part of the Lang theory is not 
markedly different from those which I have 
called "nominalistic." The practical need of 
differentiation compelled the individual tribes to 
assume names and therefore they tolerated the 
names which ever} 7 tribe ascribed to the other. 
This "naming from without" is the peculiarity 
of Lang's construction. The fact that the 
names which thus originated were borrowed 
from animals is not further remarkable and need 
not have been felt by primitive men as abuse or 
derision. Besides, Lang has cited numerous 


cases from later epochs of history in which names 
given from without that were first meant to be 
derisive were accepted by those nicknamed and 
voluntarily born, (The Guises, Whigs and 
Tories). The assumption that the origin of 
these names was forgotten in the course of time 
connects this second part of the Lang theory 
with the first one just mentioned. 

P) The Sociological Theories 

S. Reinach, who successfully traced the relics 
of the totemic system in the cult and customs of 
later periods, though attaching from the very 
beginning only slight value to the factor of de- 
scent from the totem animal, once made the 
casual remark that totemism seemed to him to 
be nothing but "une hypertrophic de V instinct 
social" 25 

The same interpretation seems to permeate 
the new work of E. Durkheim, Les formes 
elementaires de la vie religieuse; Le systeme 
totemique en Australie, 1912. The totem is the 
visible representative of the social religion of 
these races. It embodies the community, which 
is the real object of veneration. 

Other authors have sought a more intimate 
reason for the share which social impulses have 
played in the formation of totemic institutions. 

25 L c., Vol. I, p. 41. 


Thus A. C. Haddon has assumed that every 
primitive tribe originally lived on a particular 
plant or animal species and perhaps also traded 
with this food and exchanged it with other tribes. 
It then was inevitable that a tribe should become 
known to other tribes by the name of the animal 
which played such weighty role with it. At the 
same time this tribe would develop a special 
familiarity with this animal, and a kind of in- 
terest for it which, however, was based upon the 
psychic motive of man's most elementary and 
pressing need, namely, hunger. 26 

The objections against this most rational of 
all the totem theories are that such a state of the 
food supply is never found among primitive men 
and probably never existed. Savages are the 
more omnivorous the lower they stand in the so- 
cial scale. Besides, it is incomprehensible how 
such an exclusive diet could have developed an 
almost religious relation to the totem, culminat- 
ing in an absolute abstention from the preferred 

The first of the three theories about the origin 
of totemism which Frazer stated was a psycho- 
logical one. We shall report it elsewhere. 

Frazer's second theorv, which we will discuss 
here, originated under the influence of an im- 

26 Address to the Anthropological Section, British Association, 
Belfast, 1902. According to Frazer, I. c, Vol. IV, p. 50. 


portant publication by two investigators of the 
inhabitants of Central Australia. 27 

Spencer and Gillen describe a series of pe- 
culiar institutions, customs, and opinions of a 
group of tribes, the so-called Arunta nation, and 
Frazer subscribes to their opinion that these 
peculiarities are to be looked upon as character- 
istics of a primary state and that they can explain 
the first and real meaning of totemism. 

In the Arunta tribe itself (a part of the 
Arunta nation) these peculiarities are as fol- 

1. They have the division into totem clans 
but the totem is not hereditary but is individually 
determined (as will be shown later) . 

2. The totem clans are not exogamous, and 
the marriage restrictions are brought about by 
a highly developed division into marriage classes 
which have nothing to do with the totems. 

3. The function of the totem clan consists of 
carrying out a ceremony which in a subtle magic 
manner brings about an increase of the edible 
totem. (This ceremony is called Intichiuma.) 

4. The Aruntas have a peculiar theory about 
conception and re-birth. They assume that the 
spirits of the dead who belonged to their totem 
wait for their re-birth in definite localities and 

27 "The Native Tribes of Central Australia" by Baldwin Spen- 
cer and H. J. Gillen, London, 1891. 


penetrate into the bodies of the women who pass 
such a spot. When a child is born the mother 
states at which spirit abode she thinks she con- 
ceived her child. This determines the totem of 
the child. It is further assumed that the. spirits 
(of the dead as well as of the re-born) are bound 
to peculiar stone amulets, called Clmrhiga, 
which are found in these places. 

Two factors seem to have induced Frazer to 
believe that the oldest form of totemism had 
been found in the institution of the Aruntas. 
In the first place the existence of certain myths 
which assert that the ancestors of the Aruntas 
always lived on their totem animal, and that they 
married no other women except those of their own 
totem. Secondly, the apparent disregard of the 
sexual act in their theory of conception. People 
who had not yet realized that conception was the 
result of the sexual act might well be considered 
the most backward and primitive people living 

Frazer, in having recourse to the Intichiuma 
ceremony to explain totemism, suddenly saw the 
totemic system in a totally different light as a 
thoroughly practical organization for accom- 
plishing the most natural needs of man. (Com- 
pare Haddon above. 28 ) The system was simply 

28 There is nothing vague or mystical about it, nothing of that 
metaphysical haze which some writers love to conjure up over the 


an extraordinary piece of ''cooperative magic." 
Primitive men formed what might be called a 
magic production and consumption club. Each 
totem clan undertook to see to the cleanliness of 
a certain article of food. If it were a question of 
inedible totems like harmful animals, rain, wind, 
or similar objects, it was the duty of the totem 
clan to dominate this part of nature and to ward 
off its injuriousness. The efforts of each clan 
were for the good of all the others. As the clan 
could not eat its totem or could eat only a very 
little of it, it furnished this valuable product for 
the rest and was in turn furnished with what 
these had to take care of as their social totem 
duty. In the light of this interpretation fur- 
nished by the Intichiuma ceremony, it appeared 
to Frazer as if the prohibition against eating the 
totem had misled observers to neglect the more 
important side of the relation, namely the com- 
mandment to supply as much as possible of the 
edible totem for the needs of others. 

Frazer accepted the tradition of the Aruntas 
that each totem clan had originally lived on its 
totem without any restriction. It then became 
difficult to understand the evolution that fol- 
lowed through which savages were satisfied to 

humblest beginnings of human speculation but which is utterly 
foreign to the simple, sensuous, and concrete modes of the savage. 
("Totemism and Exogamy," I., p. 117.) 


insure the totem for others while they themselves 
abstained from eating it. He then assumed that 
this restriction was by no means the result of a 
kind of religious respect, but came about through 
the observation that no animal devoured its own 
kind, so that this break in the identification with 
the totem was injurious to the power which 
savages sought to acquire over the totem. Or 
else it resulted from the endeavor to make the 
being favorably disposed by sparing it. Frazer 
did not conceal the difficulties of this explana- 
tion from himself, 29 nor did he dare to indicate 
in what way the habit of marrying within the 
totem, which the myths of the Aruntas pro- 
claimed, was converted into exogamy. 

Frazer's theory based on the IntichiuTna, 
stands and falls with the recognition of the 
primitive nature of the Arunta institutions. 
But it seems impossible to hold to this in the fact 
of the objections advanced by Durkheim 30 and 
Lang. 31 The Aruntas seem on the contrary to 
be the most developed of the Australian tribes 
and to represent rather a dissolution stage of 
totemism than its beginning. The myths that 
made such an impression on Frazer because they 
emphasize, in contrast to prevailing institutions 

29 1. C, p. 120. 

30 "L'annee Sociologique," Vol. I, V, VIII, and elsewhere. See 
especially the chapter, "Sur le Totemisme," Vol. V, 1901. 
3i "Social Origins and the Secret of the Totem." 


of to-day, that the Aruntas are free to eat the 
totem and to marry within it, easily explain 
themselves to us as wish phantasies which are 
projected into the past, like the myths of the 
Golden Age. 

y) The Psychological Theories 

Frazer's first psychological theories, formed 
before his acquaintance wifch the observations of 
Spencer and Gillen, were based upon the belief 
in an "outward soul." 32 The totem was meant 
to represent a safe place of refuge where the 
soul is deposited in order to avoid the dangers 
which threaten it. After primitive man had 
housed his soul in his totem he himself became 
invulnerable and he naturally took care himself 
not to harm the bearer of his soul. But as he 
did not know which individual of the species in 
question was the bearer of his soul he was con- 
cerned in sparing the whole species. Frazer 
himself later gave up this derivation of totemism 
from the belief in souls. 

When he became acquainted with the obser- 
vations of Spencer and Gillen he set up the other 
social theory which has just been stated, but he 
himself then saw that the motive from which he 
had derived totemism was altogether too "ra- 
tional" and that he had assumed a social organi- 

32 "The Golden Bough," II, p. 332. 


zation for it which was altogether too complicated 
to be called primitive. 33 The magic cooperative 
companies now appeared to him rather as the 
fruit than as the germ of totemism. He sought 
a simpler factor for the derivation of totemism 
in the shape of a primitive superstition behind 
these forms. He then found this original factor 
in the remarkable conception theory of the 

As already stated, the Aruntas establish no 
connection between conception and the sexual 
act. If a woman feels herself to be a mother it 
means that at that moment one of the spirits 
from the nearest spirit abode who has been 
watching for a re-birth, has penetrated into her 
body and is born as her child. This child has 
the same totem as all the spirits that lurk in that 
particular locality. But if we are willing to go 
back a step further and assume that the woman 
originally believed that the animal, plant, stone 
or other object which occupied her fancy at the 
moment when she first felt herself pregnant had 
really penetrated into her and was being born 
through her in human form, then the identity 
of a human being with his totem would really 

33 "It is unlikely that a community of savages should deliber- 
ately parcel out the realm of nature into provinces, assign each 
province to a particular band of magicians, and bid all the bands 
to work their magic and weave their spells for the common good." 
"Totemism and Exogamy," Vol. IV, p. 57, 


be founded on the belief of the mother, and all 
the other totem commandments (with the ex- 
ception of exogamy) could easily be derived 
from this belief. Men would refuse to eat the 
particular animal or plant because it would be 
just like eating themselves. But occasionally 
they would be impelled to eat some of their totem 
in a ceremonial manner because they could thus 
strengthen their identification with the totem, 
which is the essential part of totemism. W. H. 
R. Rivers' observations among the inhabitants 
of the Bank Islands seemed to prove men's di- 
rect identification with their totems on the basis 
of such a conception theory. 34 

The ultimate sources of totemism would then 
be the ignorance of savages as to the process of 
procreation among human beings and animals; 
especially their ignorance as to the role which 
the male plays in fertilization. This ignorance 
must be facilitated by the long interval which 
is interposed between the fertilizing act and the 
birth of the child or the sensation of the child's 
first movements. Totemism is therefore a crear 
tion of the feminine mind and not of the mascu- 
line. The sick fancies of the pregnant woman 
are the roots of it. "Any thing indeerh-ffcrb 
struck a woman at that mysterious moment of 
her life when she first knows herself to be a 

34 "Totemism and Exogamy," II, p. 89, and IV, p. 59. 


mother might easily be identified by her with the 
child in her womb. Such maternal fancies, so 
natural and seemingly so universal, appear to be 
the root of totemism. 35 

The main objection to this third theory of 
Frazer's is the same which has already been ad- 
vanced against his second, sociological theory. 
The Aruntas seem to be far removed from the 
beginnings of totemism: Their denial of father- 
hood does not apparently rest upon primitive 
ignorance; in many cases they even have pater- 
nal inheritance. They seem to have sacrificed 
fatherhood to a kind of a speculation which 
strives to honor the ancestral spirits. 36 Though 
they raise the myth of immaculate conception 
through a spirit to a general theory of concep- 
tion, we cannot for that reason credit them with 
ignorance as to the conditions of procreation any 
more than we could the old races who lived dur- 
ing the rise of the Christian myths. 

Another psychological theory of the origin of 
totemism has been formulated by the Dutch 
writer, G. A. Wilcken. It establishes a con- 
nection between totemism and the migration of 
souls. "The animal into which, according to 
general belief, the souls of the dead passed, be- 

35 "Totemism and Exogamy," IV, p. 63. 

36 "That belief is a philosophy far from primitive," Andrew 
Lang, "Secret of the Totem," p. 192. 


came a blood relative, an ancestor, and was 
revered as such." But the belief in the soul's 
migration to animals is more readily derived 
from totemism than inversely. 37 

Still another theory of totemism is advanced 
by the excellent American ethnologists, Franz 
Boas, Hill-Tout, and others. It is based on 
observations of totemic Indian tribes and asserts 
that the totem is originally the guardian spirit of 
an ancestor who has acquired it through a dream 
and handed it on to his descendants. We have 
already heard the difficulties which the derivation 
of totemism through inheritance from a single 
individual offers; besides, the Australian obser- 
vations seem by no means to support the tracing 
back of the totem to the guardian spirit. 38 

Two facts have become decisive for the last of 
the psychological theories as stated by Wundt; 
in the first place, that the original and most 
widely known totem object was an animal, 
and secondly, that the earliest totem animals 
corresponded to animals which had a soul. 39 
Such animals as birds, snakes, lizards, mice 
are fitted by their extreme mobility, their 
flight through the air, and by other character- 
istics which arouse surprise and fear, to become 

37 Frazer, "Totemism and Exogamy," IV, p. 45. 

38 Frazer, 1. c, p. 48. 

39 Wundt, "Elemente der Volker Psychologie," p. 190. 


the bearers of souls which leave their bodies. 
The totem animal is a descendant of the animal 
transformations of the spirit-soul. Thus with 
Wundt totemism is directly connected with the 
belief in souls or with animism. 

b) and c) The Origin of Exogamy and Its Re- 
lation to Totemism 

I have put forth the theories of totemism with 
considerable detail and yet I am afraid that I 
have not made them clear enough on account of 
the condensation that was constantly necessary. 
In the interest of the reader I am taking the lib- 
erty of further condensing the other questions 
that arise. The discussions about the exogamy 
of totem races become especially complicated 
and untractable, one might even say confused, 
on account of the nature of the material used. 
Fortunately the object of this treatise permits 
me to limit myself to pointing out several guide- 
posts and referring to the frequently quoted 
writings of experts in the field for a more 
thorough pursuit of the subject. 

The attitude of an author to the problems of 
exogamy is of course not independent of the 
stand he has taken toward one or the other of 
the totem theories. Some of these explanations 
of totemism lack all connection with exogamy 
so that the two institutions are entirely separ- 


ated. Thus we find here two opposing views, 
one of which clings to the original likelihood that 
exogamy is an essential part of the totemic sys- 
tem while the other disputes such a connection 
and believes in an accidental combination of these 
two traits of the most ancient cultures. In his 
later works Frazer has emphatically stood for 
this latter point of view. 

"I must request the reader to bear constantly 
in mind that the two institutions of totemism and 
exogamy are fundamentally distinct in origin 
and nature though they have accidentally crossed 
and blended in many tribes." (Totemism and 
Exogamy I, Preface XII.) 

He warns directly against the opposite view 
as being a source of endless difficulties and mis- 
understandings. In contrast to this, many au- 
thors have found a way of conceiving exogamy 
as a necessary consequence of the basic views on 
totemism. Durkheim 40 has shown in his writ- 
ings how the taboo, which is attached to the 
totem, must have entailed the prohibition against 
putting a woman of the same totem to sexual 
uses. The totem is of the same blood as the 
human being and for this reason the blood bann 
(in reference to defloration and menstruation) 
forbids sexual intercourse with a woman of the 

40"L'ann6e Sociologique," 1898-1904. 


same totem. 41 Andrew Lang, who here agrees 
with Durkheim, goes so far as to believe that the 
blood taboo was not necessary to bring about the 
prohibition in regard to the women of the same 
tribe. 42 The general totem taboo which, for in- 
stance, forbids any one to sit in the shadow of the 
totem tree, would have sufficed. Andrew Lang 
also contends for another derivation of exogamy 
-'(see below) and leaves it in doubt how these two 
explanations are related to each other. 

As regards the temporal relations, the ma- 
jority of authors subscribe to the opinion that 
totemism is the older institution and that ex- 
ogamy came later. 43 

Among the theories which seek to explain 
exogamy independently of totemism only a few 
need be mentioned in so far as they illustrate 
different attitudes of the authors towards the 
problem of incest. 

MacLennan 44 had ingeniously guessed that 
exogamy resulted from the remnants of customs 
pointing to earlier forms of female rape. He 
assumed that it was the general custom in an- 

41 See Frazer's "Criticism of Durkheim, Totemism and Exog- 
amy," p. 101. 

*2 "Secret," etc., p. 125. 

43 See Frazer, 1. c. IV, p. 75 : "The totemic clan is a totally- 
different social organism from the exogamous class, and we have 
good grounds for thinking that it is far older." 

44 "Primitive Marriage," 1865. 


cient times to procure women from strange 
tribes so that marriage with a woman from the 
same tribe gradually became "improper because 
it was unusual." He sought the motive for the 
exogamous habit in the scarcity of women among 
these tribes, which had resulted from the custom 
of killing most female children at birth. We 
are not concerned here with investigating 
whether actual conditions corroborate MacLen- 
nan's assumptions. We are more interested in 
the argument that these premises still leave it 
unexplained why the male members of the tribe 
should have made these few women of their blood 
inaccessible to themselves, as well as in the man- 
ner in which the incest problem is here entirely 
neglected. 45 

Other writers have on the contrary assumed, 
and evidently with more right, that exogamy is 
to be interpreted as an institution for the pre- 
vention of incest. 46 

If we survey the gradually increasing compli- 
cation of Australian marriage restrictions we 
can hardly help agreeing with the opinion of 
Morgan, Frazer, Hewitt and Baldwin Spencer, 47 
that these institutions bear the stamp of "deliber- 
ate design," as Frazer puts it, and that they were 

45 Frazer, 1. c, p. 73 to 92. 

46 Compare Chapter I. 

47 Morgan, "Ancient Society," 1877.— Frazer, "Totemism and 
Exogamy," IV, p. 105. 


meant to do what they have actually accom- 
plished. "In no other way does it seem possible 
to explain in all its details a system at once so 
complex and so regular." 48 

It is of interest to point out that the first re- 
strictions which the introduction of marriage 
classes brought about affected the sexual free- 
dom of the younger generation, in other words, 
incest between brothers and sisters and between 
sons and mothers, while incest between father 
and daughter was only abrogated by more 
sweeping measures. 

However, to trace back exogamous sexual 
restrictions to legal intentions does not add any- 
thing to the understanding of the motive which 
created these institutions. From what source, 
in the final analysis, springs the dread of incest 
which must be recognized as the root of exogamy? 
It evidently does not suffice to appeal to an 
instinctive aversion against sexual intercourse 
with blood relatives, that is to say, to the fact of 
incest dread, in order to explain the dread of 
incest, if social experience shows that, in spite of 
this instinct, incest is not a rare occurrence even 
in our society, and if the experience of history 
can acquaint us with cases in which incestuous 
marriage of privileged persons was made the 

« Frazer, 1. c, p. 106. 


Westermarck 49 advanced the following to ex- 
plain the dread of incest: "that an innate aver- 
sion against sexual intercourse exists between 
persons who live together from childhood and 
that this feeling, since such persons are as a rule 
consanguinous, finds a natural expression in 
custom and law through the abhorrence of sex- 
ual intercourse between those closely related." 
Though Havelock Ellis disputed the instinctive 
character of this aversion in his "Studies in the 
Psychology of Sex," he otherwise supported the 
same explanation in its essentials by declaring: 
"The normal absence of the manifestation of the 
pairing instinct where brothers and sisters or 
boys and girls living together from childhood 
are concerned, is a purely negative phenomenon 
due to the fact that under these circumstances 
the antecedent conditions for arousing the 
mating instinct must be entirely lacking. . . . 
For persons who have grown up together from 
childhood habit has dulled the sensual attraction 
of seeing, hearing and touching and has led it 
into a channel of quiet attachment, robbing 
it of its power to call forth the necessary ere- 
thistic excitement required to produce sexual 

49 "Origin and Development of Moral Conceptions," Vol. II, 
"Marriage," 1909. See also there the author's defense against 
familiar objections. 


It seems to me very remarkable that Wester- 
marck looks upon this innate aversion to sexual 
intercourse with persons with whom we have 
shared childhood as being at the same time a 
psychic representative of the biological fact that 
inbreeding means injury to the species. Such 
a biological instinct would hardly go so far astray 
in its psychological manifestation as to af- 
fect the companions of home and hearth which 
in this respect are quite harmless, instead of the 
blood relatives which alone are injurious to 
procreation. And I cannot resist citing the 
excellent criticism which Frazer opposes to 
Westermarck's assertion. Frazer finds it in- 
comprehensible that sexual sensibility to-day is 
not at all opposed to sexual intercourse with 
companions of the hearth and home while the 
dread of incest, which is said to be nothing but 
an offshoot of this reluctance, has nowadays 
grown to be so overpowering. But other re- 
marks of Frazer's go deeper and I set them 
down here in unabbreviated form because they 
are in essential agreement with the arguments 
developed in my chapter on taboo. 

"It is not easy to see why any deep human 
instinct should need reinforcement through law. 
There is no law commanding men to eat and 
drink, or forbidding them to put their hands in 
the fire, Men eat and drink and keep their 


hands out of the fire instinctively, for fear of 
natural, not legal penalties, which would be en- 
tailed by violence done to these instincts. The 
law only forbids men to do what their instincts 
incline them to do; what nature itself prohibits 
and punishes it would be superfluous for the law 
to prohibit and punish. Accordingly we may 
always safely assume that crimes forbidden by 
law are crimes which many men have a natural 
propensity to commit. If there were no such 
propensity there would be no such crimes, and 
if no such crimes were committed, what need to 
forbid them? Instead of assuming therefore, 
from the legal prohibition of incest, that there is 
a natural aversion to incest we ought rather to 
assume that there is a natural instinct in favor 
of it, and that if the law represses it, it does so 
because civilized men have come to the conclu- 
sion that the satisfaction of these natural in- 
stincts is detrimental to the general interests 
of society." 50 

To this valuable argument of Frazer's I can 
add that the experiences of psychoanalysis make 
the assumption of such an innate aversion to in- 
cestuous relations altogether impossible. They 
have taught, on the contrary, that the first sexual 
impulses of the young are regularly of an incest- 
uous nature and that such repressed impulses 

bo l. c, p. 97. 


play a role which can hardly be overestimated 
as the motive power of later neuroses. 

The interpretation of incest dread as an in- 
nate instinct must therefore be abandoned. The 
same holds true of another derivation of the in- 
cest prohibition which counts many supporters, 
namely, the assumption that primitive races very 
soon observed the dangers with which inbreed- 
ing threatened their race and that they therefore 
had decreed the incest prohibition with a con- 
scious purpose. The objections to this at- 
tempted explanation crowd upon each other. 51 
Not only must the prohibition of incest be older 
than all breeding of domestic animals from which 
men could derive experience of the effect of in- 
breeding upon the characteristics of the breed, 
but the harmful consequences of inbreeding are 
not established beyond all doubt even to-day and 
in man they can be shown only with difficulty. 
Besides, everything that we know about con- 
temporaneous savages makes it very improbable 
that the thoughts of their far-removed ancestors 
should already have been occupied with pre- 
venting injury to their later descendants. It 
sounds almost ridiculous to attribute hygienic 
and eugenic motives such as have hardly yet 
found consideration in our culture, to these 

si Compare Durkheim, "La prohibition de 1'inceste." "L'annee 
Sociologique,' I, 1896-97, 


children of the race who lived without thought 
of the morrow. 52 

And finally it must be pointed out that a pro- 
hibition against inbreeding as an element weak- 
ening to the race, which is imposed from practical 
hygienic motives, se«ms quite inadequate to 
explain the deep abhorrence which our society 
feels against incest. This dread of incest, as I 
have shown elsewhere, 53 seems to be even more 
active and stronger among primitive races living 
to-day than among the civilized. 

In inquiring into the origin of incest dread it 
could be expected that here also there is the 
choice between possible explanations of a socio- 
logical, biological, and psychological nature in 
which the psychological motives might have to 
be considered as representative of biological 
forces. Still, in the end, one is compelled to 
subscribe to Frazer's resigned statement, namely, 
that we do not know the origin of incest dread 
and do not even know how to guess at it. None 
of the solutions of the riddle thus far advanced 
seems satisfactory to us. 54 

I must mention another attempt to explain the 

52 Charles Darwin says about savages: "They are not likely to 
reflect on distant evils to their progeny." 

ss See Chapter I. 

b* "Thus the ultimate origin of exogamy and with it the law of 
incest — since exogamy was devised to prevent incest — remains a 
problem nearly as dark as ever." "Totemism and Exogamy," I, 
p. 165, 


origin of incest dread which is of an entirely 
different nature from those considered up to 
now. It might be called a historic explanation. 
This attempt is associated with a hypothesis 
of Charles Darwin about the primal social state 
of man. From the habits of the higher apes 
Darwin concluded that man, too, lived originally 
in small hordes in which the jealousy of the old- 
est and strongest male prevented sexual promis- 
cuity. "We may indeed conclude from what we 
know of the jealousy of all male quadrupeds, 
armed, as many of them are, with special wea- 
pons for battling with their rivals, that promis- 
cuous intercourse in a state of nature is extremely 
improbable. ... If we therefore look back 
far enough into the stream of time and judging 
from the social habits of man as he now exists, 
the most probable view is that he originally lived 
in small communities, each with a single wife, or 
if powerful with several, whom he jealously de- 
fended against all other men. Or he may not 
have been a social animal and yet have lived with 
several wives, like the gorilla; for all the natives 
"agree that only the adult male is seen in a band; 
when the young male grows up a contest takes 
place for mastery, and the strongest, by killing 
and driving out the others, establishes himself 
as the head of the community (Dr. Savage in 
the Boston Journal of Natural History, Vol. 


V, 1845-47) . The younger males being thus 
driven out and wandering about would also, when 
at last successful in finding a partner, prevent too 
close inbreeding within the limits of the same 
family." 55 

Atkinson 56 seems to have been the first to rec- 
ognize that these conditions of the Darwinian 
primal horde would in practice bring about the 
exogamy of the young men. Each one of those 
driven away could found a similar horde in 
which, thanks to jealousy of the chief, the same 
prohibition as to sexual intercourse obtained, and 
in the course of time these conditions would have 
brought about the rule which is now known as 
law: no sexual intercourse with the members 
of the horde. After the advent of totemism the 
rule would have changed into a different form: 
no sexual intercourse within the totem. 

Andrew Lang 57 declared himself in agree- 
ment with this explanation of exogamy. But 
in the same book he advocates the other theory of 
Durkheim which explains exogamy as a conse- 
quence of the totem laws. It is not altogether 
easy to combine the two interpretations; in the 
first case exogamy would have existed before 

5fi "The Origin of Man," Vol. II, Chapter 20, pp. 603-604. 
56 "Primal Law," London, 1903 (with Andrew Lang, "Social 

67 "Secret of the Totem, pp. 114, 143. 


totemism; in the second case it would be a con- 
sequence of it. 58 


Into this darkness psychoanalytic experience 
throws one single ray of light. 

The relation of the child to animals has much 
in common with that of primitive man. The 
child does not yet show any trace of the pride 
which afterwards moves the adult civilized man 
to set a sharp dividing line between his own 
nature and that of all other animals. The child 
unhesitatingly attributes full equality to ani- 
mals; he probably feels himself more closely 
related to the animal than to the undoubtedly 
mysterious adult, in the freedom with which he 
acknowledges his needs. 

68 "If it be granted that exogamy existed in practice, on the 
lines of Mr. Darwin's theory, before the totem beliefs lent to the 
practice a sacred sanction, our task is relatively easy. The first 
practical rule would be that of the jealous sire: "No males to 
touch the females in my camp," with expulsion of adolescent sons. 
In efflux of time that rule, become habitual, would be, "No mar- 
riages within the local group." Next let the local groups receive 
names such as Emus, Crows, Opossums, Snipes, and the rule 
becomes, "No marriage within the local group of animal name; no 
Snipe to marry a Snipe." But, if the primal groups were not 
exogamous they would become so as soon as totemic myths and 
taboos were developed out of the animal, vegetable, and other 
names of small local groups." "Secret of the Totem," p. 143. 
(The italics above are mine). — In his last expression on the sub- 
ject, ("Folklore," December, 1911) Andrew Lang states, however, 
that he has given up the derivation of exogamy out of the "gen- 
eral totemic" taboo. 


Not infrequently a curious disturbance mani- 
fests itself in this excellent understanding be- 
tween child and animal. The child suddenly 
begins to fear a certain animal species and to 
protect himself against seeing or touching any in- 
dividual of this species. There results the clini- 
cal picture of an animal phobia, which is one of 
the most frequent among the psychoneurotic dis- 
eases of this age and perhaps the earliest form 
of such an ailment. The phobia is as a rule in 
regard to animals for which the child has until 
then shown the liveliest interest and has nothing 
to do with the individual animal. In cities the 
choice of animals which can become the object 
of phobia is not great. They are horses, dogs, 
cats, more seldom birds, and strikingly often 
very small animals like bugs and butterflies. 
Sometimes animals which are known to the child 
only from picture books and fairy stories become 
objects of the senseless and inordinate anxiety 
which is manifested with these phobias; it is sel- 
dom possible to learn the manner in which such 
an unusual choice of anxiety has been brought 
about. I am indebted to Dr. Karl Abraham 
for the report of a case in which the child itself 
explained its fear of wasps by saying that the 
color and the stripes of the body of the wasp had 
made it think of the tiger of which, from all that 
it had heard, it might well be afraid. 


The animal phobias have not yet been made 
the object of careful analytical investigation, 
although they very much merit it. The difficul- 
ties of analyzing children of so tender an age 
have probably been the motive of such neglect. 
It cannot therefore be asserted that the general 
meaning of these illnesses is known, and I myself 
do not think that it would turn out to be the same 
in all cases. But a number of such phobias di- 
rected against larger animals have proved acces- 
sible to analysis and have thus betrayed their 
secret to the investigator. In every case it was 
the same: the fear at bottom was of the father, 
if the children examined were boys, and was 
merely displaced upon the animal. 

Every one of any experience in psychoanalysis 
has undoubtedlv seen such cases and has received 
the same impression from them. But I can re- 
fer to only a few detailed reports on the subject. 
This is an accident of the literature of such cases, 
from which the conclusion should not be drawn 
that our general assertion is based on merely scat- 
tered observation. For instance I mention an 
author, M. Wulff of Odessa, who has very in- 
telligently occupied himself with the neuroses of 
childhood. He tells, in relating the history of 
an illness, that a nine year old boy suffered from 
a dog phobia at the age of four. "When he saw 
a dog running by on the street he wept and cried: 


'Dear dog, don't touch me, I will be good.' " 
By "being good" he meant "not to play violin 
any more" (to practice onanism) , 58a 

The same author later sums up as follows: 
"His dog phobia is really his fear of the father 
displaced upon the dog, for his peculiar expres- 
sion: 'Dog, I will be good' — that is to say, I will 
not masturbate — really refers to the father, who 
has forbidden masturbation." He then adds 
something in a note which fully agrees with my 
experience and at the same time bears witness to 
the abundance of such experiences : "such phobias 
(of horses, dogs, cats, chickens and other domes- 
tic animals) are, I think, at least as prevalent as 
pavor nocturnus in childhood, and usually reveal 
themselves in the analysis as a displacement of 
fear from one of the parents to animals. I am 
not prepared to assert that the wide-spread mouse 
and rat phobia has the same mechanism." 

I reported the "Analysis of the Phobia of a 
five-year-old Boy" 59 which the father of the 
little patient had put at my disposal. It was a 
fear of horses as a result of which the boy refused 
to go on the street. He expressed his apprehen- 
sion that the horse would come into the room and 
bite him. It proved that this was meant to be 

58a M. Wulff, "Contributions to Infantile Sexuality," Zentralbl. 
f. Psychoanalyze, 1912, II, Nr. I, p. 15. 
«9 "Little Hans, 1 ' translated by A. A. Brill, Moffat, Yard & Co. 


the punishment for his wish that the horse should 
fall over (die). After assurances had relieved 
the boy of his fear of his father, it proved that he 
was fighting against wishes whose content was 
the absence (departure or death) of the father. 
He indicated only too plainly that he felt the 
father to be his rival for the favor of the mother, 
upon whom his budding sexual wishes were by 
dark premonitions directed. He therefore had 
the typical attitude of the male child to its par- 
ents which we call the "Oedipus complex" in 
which we recognize the central complex of the 
neuroses in general. Through the analysis of 
"Little John" we have learnt a fact which is very 
valuable in relation to totemism, namely, that 
under such conditions the child displaces a part 
of its feelings from the father upon some animal. 
Analysis showed the paths of association, 
both significant and accidental in content, along 
which such a displacement took place. It also 
allowed one to guess the motives for the dis- 
placement. The hate which resulted from the 
rivalry for the mother could not permeate the 
boy's psychic life without being inhibited ; he had 
to contend with the tenderness and admiration 
which he had felt for his father from the begin- 
ning, so that the child assumed a double or am- 
bivalent emotional attitude towards the father 
and relieved himself of this ambivalent conflict 


by displacing his hostile and anxious feelings 
upon a substitute for the father. The displace- 
ment could not, however, relieve the conflict by 
bringing about a smooth division between the 
tender and the hostile feelings. On the con- 
trary, the conflict was continued in reference to 
the object to which displacement has been made 
and to which also the ambivalence spreads. 
There was no doubt that little John had not only 
fear, but respect and interest for horses. As 
soon as his fear was moderated he identified him- 
self with the feared animal; he jumped around 
like a horse, and now it was he who bit the 
father. 60 In another stage of solution of the 
phobia he did not scruple to identify his parents 
with other large animals. 01 

We may venture the impression that certain 
traits of totemism return as a negative expres- 
sion in these animal phobias of children. But 
we are indebted to S. Ferenczi for a beautiful 
individual observation of what must be called 
a case of positive totemism in the child. 62 It is 
true that with the little Arpad, whom Ferenczi 
reports, the totemic interests do not awaken in 
direct connection with the Oedipus complex, but 
on the basis of a narcistic premise, namely, the 

60 1. c, p. 41. 

ei "The Phantasy of the Giraffe," 1. c, p. 30. 
62 S. Ferenczi, "Contributions to Psychoanalysis," p. 204, trans- 
lated by Ernest Jones, R. G. Badger, Boston, 1916. 


fear of castration. But whoever looks atten- 
tively through the history of little John will also 
find there abundant proof that the father was 
admired as the possessor of large genitals and 
was feared as threatening the child's own geni- 
tals. In the Oedipus as well as in the castration 
complex the father plays the same role of feared 
opponent to the infantile sexual interests. Cas- 
tration and its substitute through blinding is the 
punishment he threatens. 63 

When little Arpad was two and a half years 
old he once tried, while at a summer resort, 
to urinate into the chicken coop, and on this 
occasion a chicken bit his penis or snapped at 
it. When he returned to the same place a year 
later he became a chicken himself, was inter- 
ested only in the chicken coop and in every- 
thing that occurred there, and gave up human 
speech for cackling and crowing. During the 
period of observation, at the age of five, he spoke 
again, but his speech was exclusively about 
chickens and other fowl. He played with no 
other toy and sang only songs in which there was 
something about poultry. His behavior to- 
wards his totem animal was subtly ambivalent, 
expressing itself in immoderate hating and 

63 Compare the communications of Reitler, Ferenczi, Rank and 
Eder about the substitution of blindness in the Oedipus myth for 
castration. Intern. Zeitschrift f. arzte. Psychoanalyze, 1913, I, 
No. 2. 


loving. He loved best to play killing chickens. 
"The slaughtering of poultry was quite a festi- 
val for him. He could dance around the ani- 
mals' bodies for hours at a time in a state of 
intense excitement." 64 But then he kissed and 
stroked the slaughtered animal, and cleaned and 
caressed the chicken effigies which he himself had 

Arpad himself saw to it that the meaning of 
his curious activity could not remain hidden. 
At times he translated his wishes from the to- 
temic method of expression back into that of 
everyday life. "Now I am small, now I am a 
chicken. When I get bigger I shall be a fowl. 
When I am bigger still, I shall be a cock." On 
another occasion he suddenly expressed the wish 
to eat a "potted mother," (by analogy, potted 
fowl). He was very free with open threats of 
castration against others, just as he himself had 
received them on account of onanistic preoccupa- 
tion with his penis. 

According to Ferenczi there was no doubt as 
to the source of his interest in the activities of the 
chicken yard: "The continual sexual activity 
between cock and hen, the laying of eggs and the 
creeping out of the young brood" 65 satisfied his 
sexual curiosity which really was directed to- 
wards human family life. His object wishes 

6* Ferenczi, 1. c., p. 209. 65 Ferenczi, 1. c, p. 212. 


have been formed on the model of chicken life 
when we find him saying to a woman neighbor: 
"I am going to marry you and your sister and 
my three cousins and the cook ; no, instead of the 
cook I'll marry my mother." 

We shall be able to complete our consideration 
of these observations later; at present we will 
only point out two traits that show a valuable 
correspondence with totemism: the complete 
identification with the totem animal, 66 and the 
ambivalent affective attitude towards it. In 
view of these observations we consider ourselves 
justified in substituting the father for the totem 
animal in the male's formula of totemism. We 
then notice that in doing so we have taken no new 
or especially daring step. For primitive men 
say it themselves and, as far as the totemic sys- 
tem is still in effect to-day, the totem is called 
ancestor and primal father. We have only 
taken literally an expression of these races 
w r hich ethnologists did not know what to do with 
and were therefore inclined to put it into the 
background. Psychoanalysis warns us, on the 
contrary, to emphasize this very point and to 
connect it with the attempt to explain totemism. 67 

66 Frazer finds that the essence of totemism is in this identifica- 
tion: "Totemism is an identification of a man with his totem." 
"Totemism and Exogamy," IV, p. 5. 

67 I am indebted to Otto T? ank for the report of a case of dog 
phobia in an intelligent young man whose explanation of how he 


The first result of our substitution is very 
remarkable. If the totem animal is the father, 
then the two main commandments of totemism, 
the two taboo rules which constitute its nu- 
cleus, — not to kill the totem animal and not to 
use a woman belonging to the same totem for 
sexual purposes, — agree in content with the two 
crimes of Oedipus, who slew his father and took 
his mother to wife, and also with the child's two 
primal wishes whose insufficient repression or 
whose re-awakening forms the nucleus of per- 
haps all neuroses. If this similarity is more 
than a deceptive play of accident it would per- 
force ^make it possible for us to shed light upon 
the origin of totemism in prehistoric times. In 
other words, we should succeed in making it prob- 
able that the totemic system resulted from the 
conditions underlying the Oedipus complex, just 
as the animal phobia of "little John" and the 
poultry perversion of "little Arpad" resulted 
from it. In order to trace this possibility we 
shall in what follows study a peculiarity of the 
totemic system or, as we may say, of the totemic 
religion, which until now could hardly be brought 
into the discussion. 

acquired his ailment sounds remarkably like the totem theory of 
the Aruntas mentioned above. He had heard from his father that 
his mother at one time during her pregnancy had been frightened 
by a dog. 



W. Robertson Smith, who died in 1894, was 
a physicist, philologist, Bible critic, and archae- 
ologist, a many-sided as well as keen and free 
thinking man, expressed the assumption in his 
work on the "Religion of the Semites," G8 pub- 
lished in 1889, that a peculiar ceremony, the so- 
called totem feasts had, from the very beginning, 
formed an integral part of the totemic system. 
For the support of this supposition he had at 
his disposal at that time only a single description 
of such an act from the year 500 A. D. ; he knew, 
however, how to give a high degree of probability 
to his assumption through his analysis of the 
nature of sacrifice among the old Semites. As 
sacrifice assumes a godlike person we are dealing 
here with an inference from a higher phase of 
religious rite to its lowest phase in totemism. 

I shall now cite from Robertson Smith's ex- 
cellent book G9 those statements about the origin 
and meaning of the sacrificial rite which are of 
great interest to us; I shall omit the only too 
numerous tempting details as well as the parts 
dealing with all later developments. In such 
an excerpt it is quite impossible to give the 

es "The Religion of the Semites," Second Edition, London, 1907. 
69 W. Robertson Smith, "The Religion of the Semites," 2d Edi- 
tion, London, 1907. 


reader any sense of the lucidity or of the argu- 
mentative force of the original. 

Robertson Smith shows that sacrifice at the 
altar was the essential part of the rite of old 
religions. It plays the same role in all religions, 
so that its origin must be traced back to very 
general causes whose effects were everywhere the 

But the sacrifice — the holy action KaA^oyrj 
( sacrificium Upovpyta) — originally meant some- 
thing different from what later times understood 
by it : the offering to the deity in order to recon- 
cile him or to incline him to be favorable. The 
profane use of the word was afterwards derived 
from the secondary sense of self-denial. As is 
demonstrated the first sacrifice was nothing else 
than "an act of social fellowship between the 
deity and his worshipers." 

Things to eat and drink were brought as sacri- 
fice; man offered to his god the same things on 
which he himself lived, flesh, cereals, fruits, wine 
and oil. Only in regard to the sacrificial flesh 
did there exist restrictions and exceptions. The 
god partakes of the animal sacrifices with his 
worshipers while the vegetable sacrifices are left 
to him alone. There is no doubt that animal 
sacrifices are older and at one time were the only 
forms of sacrifice. The vegetable sacrifices re- 
sulted from the offering of the first-fruits and 


correspond to a tribute to the lord of the soil and 
the land. But animal sacrifice is older than 

Linguistic survivals make it certain that the 
part of the sacrifice destined for the god was 
looked upon as his real food. This conception 
became offensive with the progressive dema- 
terialization of the deity, and was avoided by 
offering the deity only the liquid part of the 
meaL Later the use of fire, which made the 
sacrificial flesh ascend in smoke from the altar, 
made it possible to prepare human food in such 
a way that it was more suitable for the deity. 
The drink sacrifice was originally the blood of 
the sacrificed animals; wine was used later as a 
substitute for the blood. Primitive man looked 
upon wine as the "blood of the grape," as our 
poets still call it. 

The oldest form of sacrifice, older than the use 
of fire and the knowledge of agriculture, was 
therefore the sacrifice of animals, whose flesh and 
blood the god and his worshipers ate together. 
It was essential that both participants should 
receive their share of the meal. 

Such a sacrifice was a public ceremony, the 
celebration of a whole clan. As a matter of fact 
all religion was a public affair, religious duty 
was a part of the social obligation. Sacrifice 
and festival go together among all races, each 


sacrifice entails a holiday and no holiday can be 
celebrated without a sacrifice. The sacrificial 
festival was an occasion for joyously transcend- 
ing one's own interests and emphasizing social 
community and community with god. 

The ethical power of the public sacrificial 
feast was based upon primal conceptions of the 
meaning of eating and drinking in common. To 
eat and drink with some one was at the same time 
a symbol and a confirmation of social community 
and of the assumption of mutual obligations; 
the sacrificial eating gave direct expression to 
the fact that the god and his worshipers are 
communicants, thus confirming all their other 
relations. Customs that to-day still are in force 
among the Arabs of the desert prove that the 
binding force resulting from the common meal 
is not a religious factor but that the subsequent 
mutual obligations are due to the act of eating 
itself. Whoever has shared the smallest bite 
with such a Beduin, or has taken a swallow of 
his milk, need not fear him any longer as an 
enemy, but may be sure of his protection and 
help. Not indeed, forever, strictly speaking this 
lasts only while it may be assumed that the food 
partaken remains in the body. So realistically is 
the bond of union conceived; it requires repeti- 
tion to strengthen it and make it endure. 

But why is this binding power ascribed to 


eating and drinking in common? In the most 
primitive societies there is only one unconditional 
and never failing bond, that of kinship. The 
members of a community stand by each other 
jointly and severally, a kin is a group of persons 
whose life is so bound into a physical unity that 
they can be considered as parts of a common 
life. In case of the murder of one of this kin 
they therefore do not say: the blood of so and 
so has been spilt, but our blood has been spilt. 
The Hebraic phrase by which the tribal relation 
is acknowledged is: "Thou art my bone and 
my flesh." Kinship therefore signifies having 
part in a general substance. It is natural then 
that it is based not only upon the fact that we 
are a part of the substance of our mother who 
has borne us, and whose milk nourished us, but 
also that the food eaten later through which the 
body is renewed, can acquire and strengthen 
kinship. If one shared a meal with one's god 
the conviction was thus expressed that one was 
of the same substance as he, no meal was there- 
fore partaken with any one recognized as a 

The sacrificial repast was therefore originally 
a feast of the kin, following the rule that only 
those of kin could eat together. In our society 
the meal unites the members of the family; but 
the sacrificial repast has nothing to do with the 


family. Kinship is older than family life; the 
oldest families known to us regularly comprised 
persons who belonged to various bonds of kin- 
ship. The men married women of strange clans 
and the children inherited the clan of the mother; 
there was no kinship between the man and the 
rest of the members of the family. In such a 
family there was no common meal. Even to- 
day savages eat apart and alone, and the relig- 
ious prohibitions of totemism as to eating often 
make it impossible for them to eat with their 
wives and children. 

Let us now turn to the sacrificial animal. 
There was, as we have heard, no meeting of the 
kin without animal sacrifice, but, and this is sig- 
nificant, no animal was slaughtered except for 
such a solemn occasion. Without any hesita- 
tion the people ate fruits, game and the milk of 
domestic animals, but religious scruples made it 
impossible for the individual to kill a domestic 
animal for his own use. There is not the least 
doubt, says Robertson Smith, that every sacri- 
fice was originally a clan sacrifice, and that the 
killing of a sacrificial animal originally belonged 
to those acts which were forbidden to the indi- 
vidual and were only justified if the whole kin 
assumed the responsibility. Primitive men had 
only one class of actions which were thus charac- 
terized, namely, actions which touched the holi- 


ness of the kin's common blood. A life which no 
individual might take and which could be sacri- 
ficed only through the consent and participation 
of all the members of the clan was on the same 
plane as the life of a member of the kin. The 
rule that every guest of the sacrificial repast 
must partake of the flesh of the sacrificial animal, 
had the same meaning as the rule that the execu- 
tion of a guilty member of the kin must be 
performed by the whole kin. In other words: 
the sacrificial animal was treated like one of kin ; 
the sacrificing community, its god, and the sacri- 
ficial animal were of the same blood, and the 
members of a clan. 

On the basis of much evidence Robertson 
Smith identifies the sacrificial animal with the 
old totem animal. In a later age there were 
two kinds of sacrifices, those of domestic animals 
which usually were also eaten, and the unusual 
sacrifice of animals which were forbidden as 
being unclean. Further investigation then 
shows that these unclean animals were holy and 
that they were sacrificed to the gods to whom 
they were holy, that these animals were origin- 
ally identified with the gods themselves and that 
at the sacrifice the worshipers in some way em- 
phasized their blood relationship to the god and 
to the animal. But this difference between usual 
and "mystic" sacrifices does not hold good for 


still earlier times. Originally all animals were 
holy, their meat was forbidden and might be 
eaten only on solemn occasions, with the partici- 
pation of the whole kin. The slaughter of the 
animal amounted to the spilling of the kin's 
blood and had to be done with the same precau- 
tions and assurances against reproach. 

The taming of domestic animals and the rise 
of cattle-breeding seems everywhere to have put 
an end to the pure and rigorous totemism of 
earliest times. 70 But such holiness as still clung 
to domestic animals in what was now a "pas- 
toral" religion, is sufficiently distinct for us 
to recognize its totemic character. Even in late 
classical times the rite in several localities pre- 
scribed flight for the sacrificer after the sacrifice, 
as if to escape revenge. In Greece the idea must 
once have been general that the killing of an ox 
was really a crime. At the Athenian festival 
of the Bouphonia a formal trial to which all the 
participants were summoned, was instituted after 
the sacrifice. Finally it was agreed to put the 
blame for the murder upon the knife, which was 
then cast into the sea. 

In spite of the dread which protects the life 
of the animal as being of kin, it became necessary 

70 "The inference is that the domestication to which totemism 
leads (when there are any animals capable of domestication) is 
fatal to totemism." Jevons, "An Introduction to the History of 
Religion," 1911, fifth edition, p. 120. 


to kill it from time to time in solemn conclave, 
and to divide its flesh and blood among the mem- 
bers of the clan. The motive which commands 
this act reveals the deepest meaning of the es- 
sence of sacrifice. We have heard that in later 
times every eating in common, the participation 
in the same substance which entered into their 
bodies, established a holy bond between the com- 
municants; in oldest times this meaning seemed 
to be attached only to participation in the sub- 
stance of a holy sacrifice. The holy mystery of 
the sacrificial death was justified in that only in 
this way could the holy bond be established which 
united the participants with each other and with 
their god. 71 

This bond was nothing else than the life of the 
sacrificial animal which lived on its flesh and 
blood and was shared by all the participants by 
means of the sacrificial feast. Such an idea was 
the basis of all the blood bonds through which 
men in still later times became pledged to each 
other. The thoroughly realistic conception of 
consanguinity as an identity of substance makes 
comprehensible the necessity of renewing it from 
time to time through the physical process of the 
sacrificial repast. 

We will now stop quoting from Robertson 
Smith's train of thought in order to give a 

7i 1. c, p. 313. 


condensed summary of what is essential in it. 
When the idea of private property came into 
existence sacrifice was conceived as a gift to the 
deity, as a transfer from the property of man 
to that of the god. But this interpretation left 
all the peculiarities of the sacrificial ritual unex- 
plained. In oldest times the sacrificial animal 
itself had been holy and its life inviolate ; it could 
be taken only in the presence of the god, with the 
whole tribe taking part and sharing the guilt in 
order to furnish the holy substance through the 
eating of which the members of the clan assured 
themselves of their material identity with each 
other and with the deity. The sacrifice was a 
sacrament, and the sacrificial animal itself was 
one of the kin. In reality it was the old totem 
animal, the primitive god himself through the 
slaying and eating of whom the members of the 
clan revived and assured their similarity with the 

From this analysis of the nature of sacrifice 
Robertson Smith drew the conclusion that the 
periodic killing and eating of the totem before 
the period when the anthropomorphic deities 
were venerated was an important part of totem 
religion. The ceremonial of such a totem feast 
was preserved for us, he thought, in the de- 
scription of a sacrifice in later times. Saint 
Nilus tells of a sacrificial custom of the Beduins 


in the desert of Sinai towards the end of the 
fourth century A. D. The victim, a camel, was 
bound and laid upon a rough altar of stones ; the 
leader of the tribe made the participants walk 
three times around the altar to the accompani- 
ment of song, inflicted the first wound upon the 
animal and greedily drank the spurting blood; 
then the whole community threw itself upon the 
sacrifice, cut off pieces of the palpitating flesh 
with their swords and ate them raw in such haste 
that in a short interval between the rise of the 
morning star, for whom this sacrifice was meant, 
and its fading before the rays of the sun, the 
whole sacrificial, animal, flesh, skin, bones, and 
entrails, were devoured. According to every 
testimony this barbarous rite, which speaks of 
great antiquity, was not a rare custom but the 
general original form of the totem sacrifice, 
which in later times underwent the most varied 

Many authors have refused to grant any 
weight to this conception of the totem feast be- 
cause it could not be strengthened by direct ob- 
servation at the stage of totemism. Robertson 
Smith himself has referred to examples in which 
the sacramental meaning of sacrifices seems cer- 
tain, such as the human sacrifices of the Aztecs 
and others which recall the conditions of the 
totem feast, the bear sacrifices of the bear tribe 


of the Ouataouaks in America, and the bear fes- 
tival of the Ainus in Japan. Frazer has given 
a full account of these and similar cases in the 
two divisions of his great work that have last 
appeared. 72 An Indian tribe in California 
which reveres the buzzard, a large bird of prey, 
kills it once a year with solemn ceremony, where- 
upon the bird is mourned and its skin and feath- 
ers preserved. The Zuni Indians in New 
Mexico do the same thing with their holy turtle. 

In the Intichiuma ceremonies of Central Aus- 
tralian tribes a trait has been observed which fits 
in excellently with the assumptions of Robertson 
Smith. Every tribe that practices magic for 
the increase of its totem, which it cannot eat 
itself, is bound to eat a part of its totem at the 
ceremony before it can be touched by the other 
tribes. According to Frazer the best example 
of the sacramental consumption of the otherwise 
forbidden totem is to be found among the Eini 
in West Africa, in connection with the burial 
ceremony of this tribe. 73 

But we shall follow Robertson Smith in the 
assumption that the sacramental killing and the 
common consumption of the otherwise forbidden 

72 "The Golden Bough," Part V, "Spirits of the Corn and of the 
Wild," 1912, in the chapters: "Eating the God and Killing the 
Divine Animal." 

73 Frazer, "Totem and Exogamy," Vol. II, p. 590. 


totem animal was an important trait of the totem 
religion. 74 


Let us now envisage the scene of such a totem 
meal and let us embellish it further with a few 
probable features which could not be adequately 
considered before. Thus we have the clan, 
which on a solemn occasion kills its totem in a 
cruel manner and eats it raw, blood, flesh, and 
bones. At the same time the members of the 
clan, disguised in imitation of the totem, mimic 
it in sound and movement as if they wanted to 
emphasize their common identity. There is also 
the conscious realization that an action is being 
carried out which is forbidden to each individual 
and which can only be justified through the par- 
ticipation of all, so that no one is allowed to ex- 
clude himself from the killing and the feast. 
After the act is accomplished the murdered ani- 
mal is bewailed and lamented. The death la- 
mentation is compulsive, being enforced by the 
fear of a threatening retribution, and its main 
purpose is, as Robertson Smith remarks on an 
analogous occasion, to exculpate oneself from 
responsibility for the slaying. 75 

74 I am not ignorant of the objections to this theory of sacrifice 
as expressed by Marillier, Hubert, Mauss and others, but they 
have not essentially impaired the theories of Robertson Smith. 

75 "Religion of the Semites," 2nd Edition, 1907, p, 412, 


But after this mourning there follows loud 
festival gaiety accompanied by the unchaining 
of every impulse and the permission of every 
gratification. Here we find an easy insight into 
the nature of the holiday. 

A holiday is a permitted, or rather a prescribed 
excess, a solemn violation of a prohibition. Peo- 
ple do not commit the excesses which at all times 
have characterized holidays, as a result of an or- 
der to be in a holiday mood, but because in the 
very nature of a holiday there is excess ; the holi- 
day mood is brought about by the release of what 
is otherwise forbidden. 

But what has mourning over the death of the 
totem animal to do with the introduction of this 
holiday spirit? If men are happy over the slay- 
ing of the totem, which is otherwise forbidden 
to them, why do they also mourn it? 

We have heard that members of a clan become 
holy through the consumption of the totem and 
thereby also strengthen their identification with 
it and with each other. The fact that they have 
absorbed the holy life with which the substance 
of the totem is charged may explain the holiday 
mood and everything that results from it. 

Psychoanalysis has revealed to us that the 
totem animal is really a substitute for the father, 
and this really explains the contradiction that it 
is usually forbidden to kill the totem animal, that 


the killing of it results in a holiday and that the 
animal is killed and yet mourned. The ambiva- 
lent emotional attitude which to-day still marks 
the father complex in our children and so often 
continues into adult life also extended to the 
father substitute of the totem animal. 

But if we associate the translation of the totem 
as given by psychoanalysis, with the totem feast 
and the Darwinian hypothesis about the primal 
state of human society, a deeper understanding 
becomes possible and a hypothesis is offered 
which may seem phantastic but which has the 
advantage of establishing an unexpected unity 
among a series of hitherto separated phenomena. 

The Darwinian conception of the primal horde 
does not, of course, allow for the beginnings of 
totemism. There is only a violent, jealous 
father who keeps all the females for himself and 
drives away the growing sons. This primal 
state of society has nowhere been observed. The 
most primitive organization we know, which to- 
day is still in force with certain tribes, is associa- 
tions of men consisting of members with equal 
rights, subject to the restrictions of the totemic 
system, and founded on matriarchy, or descent 
through the mother. 76 Can the one have re- 

7 6 For a recent contribution compare, "The Whole House of The 
Chilkat," by G. T. Emmons, American Museum Journal, Vol. 
XVI, No. 7. (Translator.) 


suited from the other, and how was this possible? 
By basing our argument upon the celebration 
of the totem we are in a position to give an 
answer: One day 77 the expelled brothers joined 
forces, slew and ate the father, and thus put an 
end to the father horde. Together they dared 
and accomplished what would have remained 
impossible for them singly. Perhaps some ad- 
vance in culture, like the use of a new weapon, 
had given them the feeling of superiority. Of 
course these cannibalistic savages ate their vic- 
tim. This violent primal father had surely been 
the envied and feared model for each of the 
brothers. Now they accomplished their identi- 
fication with him by devouring him and each 
acquired a part of his strength. The totem 
feast, which is perhaps mankind's first celebra- 
tion, would be the repetition and commemoration 
of this memorable, criminal act with which so 
many things began, social organization, moral 
restrictions and religion. 78 

77 The reader will avoid the erroneous impression which this ex- 
position may call forth by taking into consideration the conclud- 
ing sentence of the subsequent chapter. 

78 The seemingly monstrous assumption that the tyrannical 
father was overcome and slain by a combination of the expelled 
sons has also been accepted by Atkinson as a direct result of 
the conditions of the Darwinian primal horde. "A youthful band 
of brothers living together in forced celibacy, or at most in poly- 
androus relation with some single female captive. A horde as yet 
weak in their impubescence they are, but they would, when 
strength was gained with time, inevitably wrench by combined 


In order to find these results acceptable, quite 
aside from our supposition, we need only assume 
that the group of brothers banded together were 
dominated by the same contradictory feelings 
towards the father which we can demonstrate as 
the content of ambivalence of the father complex 
in all our children and in neurotics. They hated 
the father who stood so powerfully in the way 
of their sexual demands and their desire for 
power, but they also loved and admired him. 

attacks renewed again and again, both wife and life from the 
paternal tyrant" ("Primal Law," pp. 220-221). Atkinson, who 
spent his life in New Caledonia and had unusual opportunities to 
study the natives, also refers to the fact that the conditions of 
the primal horde which Darwin assumes can easily be observed 
among herds of wild cattle and horses and regularly lead to the 
killing of the father animal. He then assumes further that a 
disintegration of the horde took place after the removal of the 
father through embittered fighting among the victorious sons, 
which thus precluded the origin of a new organization of society: 
"An ever recurring violent succession to the solitary paternal 
tyrant by sons, whose parricidal hands were so soon again 
clenched in fratricidal strife" (p. 228). Atkinson, who did not 
have the suggestions of psychoanalysis at his command and did 
not know the studies of Robertson Smith, finds a less violent 
transition from the primal horde to the next social stage in which 
many men live together in peaceful accord. He attributes it to 
maternal love that at first only the youngest sons and later others 
too remain in the horde, who in return for this toleration ac- 
knowledge the sexual prerogative of the father by the restraint 
which they practice towards the mother and towards their sisters. 

So much for the very remarkable theory of Atkinson, its essen- 
tial correspondence with the theory here expounded, and its point 
of departure which makes it necessary to relinquish so much else. 

I must ascribe the indefiniteness, the disregard of time interval, 
and the crowding of the material in the above exposition to a re- 
straint which the nature of the subject demands. It would be 
just as meaningless to strive for exactness in this material as it 
would be unfair to demand certainty here. 


After they had satisfied their hate by his removal 
and had carried out their wish for identification 
with him, the suppressed tender impulses had to 
assert themselves. 79 This took place in the form 
of remorse, a sense of guilt was formed which 
coincided here with the remorse generally felt. 
The dead now became stronger than the living 
had been, even as we observe it to-day in the 
destinies of men. What the father's presence 
had formerly prevented they themselves now 
prohibited in the psychic situation of "subsequent 
obedience" which we know so well from psycho- 
analysis. They undid their deed by declaring 
that the killing of the father substitute, the 
totem, was not allowed, and renounced the fruits 
of their deed by denying themselves the liberated 
women. Thus they created the two funda- 
mental taboos of totemism out of the sense of 
guilt of the son, and for this very reason these 
had to correspond with the two repressed wishes 
of the Oedipus complex. Whoever disobeyed 
became guilty of the two only crimes which 
troubled primitive society. 80 

7 9 This new emotional attitude must also have been responsible 
for the fact that the deed could not bring full satisfaction to any 
of the perpetrators. In a certain sense it had been in vain. For 
none of the sons could carry out his original wish of taking the 
place of the father. But failure is, as we know, much more favor T 
able to moral reaction than success. 

so "Murder and incest, or offences of like kind against the 
sacred law of blood are in primitive society the only crimes of 


The two taboos of totemism with which the 
morality of man begins are psychologically not 
of equal value. One of them, the sparing of the 
totem animal, rests entirely upon emotional mo- 
tives; the father had been removed and nothing 
in reality could make up for this. But the other, 
the incest prohibition, had, besides, a strong prac- 
tical foundation. Sexual need does not unite 
men, it separates them. Though the brothers 
had joined forces in order to overcome the father, 
each was the other's rival among the women. 
Each one wanted to have them all to himself like 
the father, and in the fight of each against the 
other the new organization would have perished. 
For there was no longer any one stronger than 
all the rest who could have successfully assumed 
the role of the father. Thus there was nothing 
left for the brothers, if they wanted to live 
together, but to erect the incest prohibition — per- 
haps after many difficult experiences — through 
which they all equally renounced the women 
whom they desired, and on account of whom they 
had removed the father in the first place. Thus 
they saved the organization which had made them 
strong and which could be based upon the homo- 
sexual feelings and activities which probably 
manifested themselves among them during the 

which the community as such takes cognizance . . ." "Religion of 
the Semites," p. 419. 


time of their banishment. Perhaps this situa- 
tion also formed the germ of the institution of 
the mother right discovered by Bachofen, which 
was then abrogated by the patriarchal family ar- 

On the other hand the claim of totemism to be 
considered the first attempt at a religion is con- 
nected with the other taboo which protects the 
life of the totem animal. The feelings of the 
sons found a natural and appropriate substitute 
for the father in the animal, but their compul- 
sory treatment of it expressed more than the 
need of showing remorse. The surrogate for 
the father was perhaps used in the attempt to 
assuage the burning sense of guilt, and to bring 
about a kind of reconciliation with the father. 
The totemic system was a kind of agreement 
with the father in which the latter granted every- 
thing that the child's phantasy could expect from 
him, protection, care, and forbearance, in return 
for which the pledge w T as given to honor his life, 
that is to say, not to repeat the act against the 
totem through which the real father had per- 
ished. Totemism also contained an attempt at 
justification. "If the father had treated us like 
the totem we should never have been tempted 
to kill him." Thus totemism helped to gloss 
over the real state of affairs and to make one 
forget the event to which it owed its origin. 


In this connection some features were formed 
which henceforth determined the character of 
every religion. The totem religion had issued 
from the sense of guilt of the sons as an attempt 
to palliate this feeling and to conciliate the in- 
jured father through subsequent obedience. All 
later religions prove to be attempts to solve the 
same problem, varying only in accordance with 
the stage of culture in which they are attempted 
and according to the paths which they take ; they 
are all, however, reactions aiming at the same 
great event with which culture began and which 
ever since has not let mankind come to rest. 

There is still another characteristic faithfully 
preserved in religion which already appeared in 
totemism at this time. The ambivalent strain 
was probably too great to be adjusted by any 
arrangement, or else the psychological conditions 
are entirely unfavorable to any kind of settle- 
ment of these contradictory feelings. It is cer- 
tainly noticeable that the ambivalence attached 
to the father complex also continues in totemism 
and in religions in general. The religion of 
totemism included not only manifestations of 
remorse and attempts at reconciliation, but also 
serves to commemorate the triumph over the fa- 
ther. The gratification obtained thereby creates 
the commemorative celebration of the totem feast 
at which the restrictions of subsequent obedience 


are suspended, and makes it a duty to repeat the 
crime of parricide through the sacrifice of the 
totem animal as often as the benefits of this deed, 
namely, the appropriation of the father's prop- 
erties, threaten to disappear as a result of the 
changed influences of life. We shall not be sur- 
prised to find that a part of the son's defiance 
also reappears, often in the most remarkable dis- 
guises and inversions, in the formation of later 

If thus far we have followed, in religion and 
moral precepts — but little differentiated in to- 
temism — the consequences of the tender impulses 
towards the father as they are changed into re- 
morse, we must not overlook the fact that for the 
most part the tendencies which have impelled 
to parricide have retained the victory. The so- 
cial and fraternal feelings on which this great 
change is based, henceforth for long periods 
exercises the greatest influence upon the devel- 
opment of society. They find expression in the 
sanctiflcation of the common blood and in the em- 
phasis upon the solidarity of life within the clan. 
In thus ensuring each other's lives the brothers 
express the fact that no one of them is to be 
treated by the other as they all treated the father. 
They preclude a repetition of the fate of 
the father. The socially established prohibition 
against fratricide is now added to the prohibition 


against killing the totem, which is based on re- 
ligious grounds. It will still be a long time 
before the commandment discards the restriction 
to members of the tribe and assumes the simple 
phraseology: Thou shalt not kill. At first the 
brother clan has taken the place of the father 
horde and was guaranteed by the blood bond. 
Society is now based on complicity in the common 
crime, religion on the sense of guilt and the con- 
sequent remorse, while morality is based partly 
on the necessities of society and partly on the 
expiation which this sense of guilt demands. 

Thus psychoanalysis, contrary to the newer 
conceptions of the totemic system and more in 
accord with older conceptions, bids us argue for 
an intimate connection between totemism and 
exogamy as well as for their simultaneous origin. 


I am under the influence of many strong 
motives which restrain me from the attempt to 
discuss the further development of religions from 
their beginning in totemism up to their present 
state. I shall follow out only two threads as I 
see them appearing in the weft with especial 
distinctness: the motive of the totem sacrifice 
and the relation of the son to the father. 81 

si Compare "Transformations and Symbols of the Libido/' by 
C. G. Jung, in which some dissenting points of view are repre- 


Robertson Smith has shown us that the old 
totem feast returns in the original form of sac- 
rifice. The meaning of the rite is the same: 
sanctification through participation in the com- 
mon meal. The sense of guilt, which can only 
be allayed through the solidarity of all the par- 
ticipants, has also been retained. In addition 
to this there is the tribal deity in whose supposed 
presence the sacrifice takes place, who takes part 
in the meal like a member of the tribe, and with 
whom identification is effected by the act of eat- 
ing the sacrifice. How does the god come into 
this situation which originally was foreign to 

The answer might be that the idea of god had 
meanwhile appeared, — no one knows whence — 
and had dominated the whole religious life, and 
that the totem feast, like everything else that 
wished to survive, had been forced to fit itself 
into the new system. However, psychoanalytic 
investigation of the individual teaches with es- 
pecial emphasis that god is in every case modeled 
after the father and that our personal relation 
to god is dependent upon our relation to our 
physical father, fluctuating and changing with 
him, and that god at bottom is nothing but an 
exalted father. Here also, as in the case of 
totemism, psychoanalysis advises us to believe 
the faithful, who call god father just as they 


called the totem their ancestor. If psychoanaly- 
sis deserves any consideration at all, then the 
share of the father in the idea of a god must be 
very important, quite aside from all the other 
origins and meanings of god upon which psycho- 
analysis can throw no light. But then the father 
would be represented twice in primitive sacrifice, 
first as god, and secondly as the totem-animal- 
sacrifice, and we must ask, with all due regard 
for the limited number of solutions which psy- 
choanalysis offers, whether this is possible and 
what the meaning of it may be. 

We know that there are a number of relations 
of the god to the holy animal (the totem and the 
sacrificial animal) : 1. Usually one animal is 
sacred to every god, sometimes even several ani- 
mals. 2. In certain, especially holy, sacrifices, 
the so-called "mystical" sacrifices, the very ani- 
mal which had been sanctified through the god 
was sacrificed to him. 82 3. The god was often 
revered in the form of an animal, or from another 
point of view, animals enjoyed a godlike rever- 
ence long after the period of totemism. 4. In 
myths the god is frequently transformed into an 
animal, often into the animal that is sacred to 
him. From this the assumption was obvious 
that the god himself w r as the animal, and that he 
had evolved from the totem animal at a later 

82 Robertson Smith, "Religion of the Semites." 


stage of religious feeling. But the reflection 
that the totem itself is nothing but a substitute 
for the father relieves us of all further discussion. 
Thus the totem may have been the first form of 
the father substitute and the god a later one in 
which the father regained his human form. Such 
a new creation from the root of all religious evo- 
lution, namely, the longing for the father, might 
become possible if in the course of time an essen- 
tial change had taken place in the relation to the 
father and perhaps also to the animal. 

Such changes are easily divined even if we dis- 
regard the beginning of a psychic estrangement 
from the animal as well as the disintegration of 
totemism through animal domestication. 83 The 
situation created by the removal of the father 
contained an element which in the course of time 
must have brought about an extraordinary in- 
crease of longing for the father. For the broth- 
ers who had joined forces to kill the father had 
each been animated bv the wish to become like 
the father and had given expression to this wish 
by incorporating parts of the substitute for him 
in the totem feast. In consequence of the pres- 
sure which the bonds of the brother clan exer- 
cised upon each member, this wish had to remain 
unfulfilled. No one could or was allowed to at- 
tain the father's perfection of power, which was 

83 See above, p. 127. 


the thing they had all sought. Thus the bitter 
feeling against the father which had incited to 
the deed could subside in the course of time, while 
the longing for him grew, and an ideal could 
arise having as a content the fullness of power 
and the freedom from restriction of the con- 
quered primal father, as well as the willingness 
to subject themselves to him. The original 
democratic equality of each member of the tribe 
could no longer be retained on account of the 
interference of cultural changes; in consequence 
of which there arose a tendencv to revive the old 
father ideal in the creation of gods through the 
veneration of those individuals who had dis- 
tinguished themselves above the rest. That a 
man should become a god and that a god should 
die, which to-day seems to us an outrageous pre- 
sumption, was still by no means offensive to the 
conceptions of classical antiquity. 84 But the 
deification of the murdered father from whom 
the tribe now derived its origin, was a much more 
serious attempt at expiation than the former 
covenant with the totem. 

s* "To us moderns, for whom the breach which divides the 
human and divine has deepened into an impassable gulf, such 
mimicry may appear impious, but it was otherwise with the 
ancients. To their thinking gods and men were akin, for many 
families traced their descent from a divinity, and the deification 
of a man probably seemed as little extraordinary to them as the 
canonization of a saint seems to a modern Catholic." Frazer, 
"The Golden Bough," I; "The Magic Art and the Evolution of 
Kings," II, p. 177. 


In this evolution I am at a loss to indicate the 
place of the great maternal deities who perhaps 
everywhere preceded the paternal deities. But 
it seems certain that the change in the relation to 
the father was not restricted to religion but logi- 
cally extended to the other side of human life 
influenced by the removal of the father, namely, 
the social organization. With the institution of 
paternal deities the fatherless society gradually 
changed into a patriarchal one. The family was 
a reconstruction of the former primal horde and 
also restored a great part of their former rights 
to the fathers. Now there were patriarchs again 
but the social achievements of the brother clan 
had not been given up and the actual difference 
between the new family patriarchs and the un- 
restricted primal father was great enough to in- 
sure the continuation of the religious need, the 
preservation of the unsatisfied longing for the 

The father therefore really appears twice in 
the scene of sacrifice before the tribal god, once 
as the god and again as the totem-sacriflcial-ani- 
mal. But in attempting to understand this sit- 
uation we must beware of interpretations which 
superficially seek to translate it as an allegory, 
and which forget' the historical stages in the pro- 
cess. The twofold presence of the father corre- 
sponds to the two successive meanings of the 


scene. The ambivalent attitude towards the 
father as well as the victory of the son's tender 
emotional feelings over his hostile ones, have 
here found plastic expression. The scene of 
vanquishing the father, his greatest degradation, 
furnishes here the material to represent his high- 
est triumph. The meaning which sacrifice has 
quite generally acquired is found in the fact that 
in the very same action which continues the mem- 
ory of this misdeed it offers satisfaction to the 
father for the ignominy put upon him. 

In the further development the animal loses its 
sacredness and the sacrifice its relation to the 
celebration of the totem; the rite becomes a sim- 
ple offering to the deity, a self -deprivation in 
favor of the god. God himself is now so exalted 
above man that he can be communicated with 
only through a priest as intermediary. At the 
same time the social order produces godlike kings 
who transfer the patriarchal system to the state. 
It must be said that the revenge of the deposed 
and reinstated father has been very cruel ; it cul- 
minated in the dominance of authority. The 
subjugated sons have used the new relation to 
disburden themselves still more of their sense 
of guilt. Sacrifice, as it is now constituted, is 
entirely beyond their responsibility. God him- 
self has demanded and ordained it. Myths in 
which the god himself kills the animal that is 


sacred to him, which he himself really is, belong 
to this phase. This is the greatest possible de- 
nial of the great misdeed with which society and 
the sense of guilt began. There is an unmis- 
takable second meaning in this sacrificial demon- 
stration. It expresses satisfaction at the fact 
that the earlier father substitute has been aban- 
doned in favor of the higher conception of god. 
The superficial allegorical translation of the 
scene here roughly corresponds with its psycho- 
analytic interpretation by saying that the god 
is represented as overcoming the animal part of 
his nature. 85 

But it would be erroneous to believe that in 
this period of renewed patriarchal authority the 
hostile impulses which belong to the father com- 
plex had entirely subsided. On the contrary, 
the first phases in the domination of the two new 
substitutive formations for the father, those of 
gods and kings, plainly show the most ener- 
getic expression of that ambivalence which is 
characteristic of religion. 

ss It is known that the overcoming of one generation of gods by 
another in mythology represents the historical process of the sub- 
stitution of one religious system by another, either as the result 
of conquest by a strange race or by means of a psychological 
development. In the latter case the myth approaches the 
"functional phenomena" in H. Silberer's sense. That the god 
who kills the animal is a symbol of the libido, as asserted by 
C. G. Jung (1. c), presupposes a different conception of the 
libido from that hitherto held, and at any rate seems to me 


In his great work, "The Golden Bough," 
Frazer has expressed the conjecture that the first 
kings of the Latin tribes were strangers who 
played the part of a deity and were solemnly 
sacrificed in this role on specified holidays. The 
yearly sacrifice (self-sacrifice is a variant) of a 
god seems to have been an important feature of 
Semitic religions. The ceremony of human sac- 
rifice in various parts of the inhabited world 
makes it certain that these human beings ended 
their lives as representatives of the deity. This 
sacrificial custom can still be traced in later times 
in the substitution of an inanimate imitation 
(doll) for the living person. The theanthropic 
god sacrifice into which unfortunately I cannot 
enter with the same thoroughness with which the 
animal sacrifice has been treated throws the clear- 
est light upon the meaning of the older forms of 
sacrifice. It acknowledges with unsurpassable 
candor that the object of the sacrificial action has 
always been the same, being identical with what 
is now revered as a god, namely with the father. 
The question as to the relation of animal to 
human sacrifice can now be easily solved. The 
original animal sacrifice was already a substitute 
for a human sacrifice, for the solemn killing of the 
father, and when the father substitute regained 
its human form, the animal substitute could 
also be retransformed into a human sacrifice. 


Thus the memory of that first great act of 
sacrifice had proved to be indestructible despite 
all attempts to forget it, and just at the moment 
when men strove to get as far away as possible 
from its motives, the undistorted repetition of it 
had to appear in the form of the god sacrifice. 
I need not fully indicate here the developments 
of religious thought which made this return pos- 
sible in the form of rationalizations. Robertson 
Smith who is, of course, far removed from the 
idea of tracing sacrifice back to this great event 
of man's primal history, says that the ceremony 
of the festivals in which the old Semites cele- 
brated the death of a deity were interpreted as 
a "commemoration of a mythical tragedy" and 
that the attendant lament was not characterized 
by spontaneous sympathy, but displayed a com- 
pulsive character, something that was imposed 
by the fear of a divine wrath. 86 We are in a 
position to acknowledge that this interpretation 
was correct, the feelings of the celebrants being 
well explained by the basic situation. 

We may now accept it as a fact that in the 

86 "Religion of the Semites," pp. 412-413. "The mourning is 
not a spontaneous expression of sympathy with the divine tragedy, 
but obligatory and enforced by fear of supernatural anger. And 
a chief object of the mourners is to disclaim responsibility for the 
god's death — a point which has already come before us in con- 
nection with theanthropic sacrifices, such as the 'ox-murder at 
Athens.' " 


further development of religions these two in- 
citing factors, the son's sense of guilt and his 
defiance, were never again extinguished. Every 
attempted solution of the religious problem and 
every kind of reconciliation of the two opposing 
psychic forces gradually falls to the ground, 
probably under the combined influence of cul- 
tural changes, historical events, and inner psychic 

The endeavor of the son to put himself in 
place of the father god, appeared with greater 
and greater distinctness. With the introduction 
of agriculture the importance of the son in the 
patriarchal family increased. He was embold- 
ened to give new expression to his incestuous 
libido which found symbolic satisfaction in labor- 
ing over mother earth. There came into exist- 
ence figures of gods like Attis, Adonis, Tammuz, 
and others, spirits of vegetation as well as youth- *\ 
ful divinities who enioved the favors of maternal 
deities and committed incest with the mother in 
defiance of the father. But the sense of guilt 
which was not allayed through these creations, 
was expressed in myths which visited these youth- 
ful lovers of the maternal goddesses with short 
life and punishment through castration or 
through the wrath of the father god appearing 
in animal form. Adonis was killed by the boar, 


the sacred animal of Aphrodite; Attis, the lover 
of Kybele, died of castration. 87 The lamenta- 
tion for these gods and the joy at their resur- 
rection have gone over into the ritual of another 
son which divinity was destined to survive long. 

When Christianity began its entry into the 
ancient world it met with the competition of the 
religion of Mithras and for a long time it was 
doubtful which deity was to be the victor. 

The bright figure of the youthful Persian god 
has eluded our understanding. Perhaps we 
may conclude from the illustrations of Mithras 
slaying the steers that he represented the son 
who carried out the sacrifice of the father by him- 
self and thus released the brothers from their 
oppressing complicity in the deed. There was 
another way of allaying this sense of guilt and 
this is the one that Christ took. He sacrificed 

« 7 The fear of castration plays an extraordinarily big role in 
disturbing the relations to the father in the case of our youthful 
neurotics. In Ferenczi's excellent study we have seen how the 
boy recognized his totem in the animal which snaps at his little 
penis. When children learn about ritual circumcision they iden- 
tify it with castration. To my knowledge the parallel in the 
psychology of races to this attitude of our children has not yet 
been drawn. The circumcision which was so frequent in primor- 
dial times among primitive races belongs to the period of initia- 
tion in which its meaning is to be found; it has only secondarily 
been relegated to an earlier time of life. It is very interesting 
that among primitive men circumcision is combined with or re- 
placed by the cutting off of the hair and the drawing of teeth, 
and that our children, who cannot know anything about this, 
really treat these two operations as equivalents to castration when 
they display their fear of them. 


his own life and thereby redeemed the brothers 
from primal sin. 

The theory of primal sin is of Orphic origin; 
it was preserved in the mysteries and thence 
penetrated into the philosophic schools of Greek 
antiquity. 88 Men were the descendants of 
Titans, who had killed and dismembered the 
young Dionysos-Zagreus; the weight of this 
crime oppressed them. A fragment of Anax- 
imander says that the unity of the world was 
destroyed by a primordial crime and everything 
that issued from it must carry on the punishment 
for this crime. S9 Although the features of band- 
ing together, killing, and dismembering as ex- 
pressed in the deed of the Titans very clearly 
recall the totem sacrifice described by St. Nilus — 
as also many other myths of antiquity, for ex- 
ample, the death of Orpheus himself — we are 
nevertheless disturbed here by the variation ac- 
cording to which a youthful god was murdered. 

In the Christian myth man's original sin is 
undoubtedly an offense against God the Father, 
and if Christ redeems mankind from the weight 
of original sin by sacrificing his own life, he 
forces us to the conclusion that this sin was 
murder. According to the law of retaliation 
which is deeply rooted in human feeling, a mur- 

ssReinach, "Cultes, Mythes, et Religions," II, p. 75. 
89"Une sorte de peche proethnique," 1. c, p. 76. 


der can be atoned only by the sacrifice of another 
life; the self-sacrifice points to a blood-guilt. 90 
And if this sacrifice of one's own life brings about 
a reconciliation with god, the father, then the 
crime which must be expiated can only have been 
the murder of the father. 

Thus in the Christian doctrine mankind most 
unreservedly acknowledges the guilty deed of 
primordial times because it now has found the 
most complete expiation for this deed in the 
sacrificial death of the son. The reconciliation 
with the father is the more thorough because 
simultaneously with this sacrifice there follows 
the complete renunciation of woman, for whose 
sake mankind rebelled against the father. But 
now also the psychological fatality of ambival- 
ence demands its rights. In the same deed which 
offers the greatest possible expiation to the 
father, the son also attains the goal of his wishes 
against the father. He becomes a god himself 
beside or rather in place of his father. The re- 
ligion of the son succeeds the religion of the 
father. As a sign of this substitution the old 
totem feast is revived again in the form of com- 
munion in which the band of brothers now eats 
the flesh and blood of the son and no longer that 
of the father, the sons thereby identifying them- 

80 The suicidal impulses of our neurotics regularly prove to be 
self-punishments for death wishes directed against others. 



selves with him and becoming holy themselves. 
Thus through the ages we see the identity of the 
totem feast with the animal sacrifice, the thean- 
thropic human sacrifice, and the Christian euch- 
arist, and in all these solemn occasions we recog- 
nize the after-effects of that crime which so op- 
pressed men but of which they must have been so 
proud. At bottom, however, the Christian com- 
munion is a new setting aside of the father, a rep- 
etition of the crime that must be expiated. We 
see how well justified is Frazer's dictum that "the 
Christian communion has absorbed within itself 
a sacrament which is doubtless far older than 
Christianity." 91 


A process like the removal of the primal father 
by the band of brothers must have left ineradi- 
cable traces in the history of mankind and must 
have expressed itself the more frequently in 
numerous substitutive formations the less it itself 
was to be remembered. 92 I am avoiding the 

»i "Eating the God," p. 51. . . . Nobody familiar with the litera- 
ture on this subject will assume that the tracing back of the 
Christian communion to the totem feast is an idea of the author 
of this book. 

»2 Ariel in "The Tempest": 

Full fathom five thy father lies: 
Of his bones are coral made; 
Those are pearls that were his eyes; 
Nothing of him that doth fade 
But doth suffer a sea-change 
Into something rich and strange. . . . 


temptation of pointing out these traces in myth- 
ology, where they are not hard to find, and am 
turning to another field in following a hint of S. 
Reinach in his suggestive treatment of the death 
of Orpheus. 93 

There is a situation in the history of Greek art 
which is strikingly familiar even if profoundly 
divergent, to the scene of a totem feast discov- 
ered by Robertson Smith. It is the situation of 
the oldest Greek tragedy. A group of persons, 
all of the same name and dressed in the same 
way, surround a single figure upon whose words 
and actions they are dependent, to represent the 
chorus and the original single impersonator of 
the hero. Later developments created a second 
and a third actor in order to represent opponents 
in playing, and off-shoots of the hero, but the 
character of the hero as well as his relation to 
the chorus remains unchanged. The hero of the 
tragedy had to suffer, this is to-day still the essen- 
tial content of a tragedy. He had taken upon 
himself the so-called "tragic guilt," which is not 
always easy to explain; it is often not a guilt in 
the ordinary sense. Almost always it consisted 
of a rebellion against a divine or human authority 
and the chorus accompanied the hero with their 
sympathies, trying to restrain and warn him, and 

»3 La Mort d'Orphee, "Cultes, Mythes, et Religions," Vol. II, p. 


lamented his fate after he had met with what was 
considered fitting punishment for his daring 

, But why did the hero of the tragedy have to 
suffer, and what was the meaning of his "tragic" 
guilt? We will cut short the discussion by a 
prompt answer. He had to suffer because he 
was the primal father, the hero of that primordial 
tragedy the repetition of which here serves a cer- 
tain tendency, and the tragic guilt is the guilt 
which he had to take upon himself in order to 
free the chorus of theirs. The scene upon the 
stage came into being through purposive distor- 
tion of the historical scene or, one is tempted to 
say, it was the result of refined hypocrisy. Ac- 
tualfy, in the old situation, it was the members 
of the chorus themselves who had caused the suf- 
fering of the hero; here, on the other hand, they 
exhaust themselves in sympathy and regret, and 
the hero himself is to blame for his suffering. 
The crime foisted upon him, namely presumption 
and rebellion against a great authority, is the 
same as that which in the past oppressed the col- 
leagues of the chorus, namely, the band of 
brothers. Thus the tragic hero, though still 
against his will, is made the redeemer of the 

When one bears in mind the suffering of the 
divine goat Dionysos in the performance of the 


Greek tragedy and the lament of the retinue of 
goats who identified themselves with him, one can 
easily understand how the almost extinct drama 
was reviewed in the Middle Ages in the Passion 

In closing this study, which has been carried 
>out in extremely condensed form, I want to state 
f the conclusion that the beginnings of religion, 
\ ethics, society, and art meet in the Oedipus com- 
\ jplex. This is in entire accord with the findings 
\of psychoanalysis, namely, that the nucleus of 
all neuroses as far as our present knowledge of 
them goes is the Oedipus complex. It comes as 
a great surprise to me that these problems of 
racial psychology can also be solved through 
a single concrete instance, such as the relation 
to the father. Perhaps another psychological 
problem must be included here. We have so 
frequently had occasion to show the ambivalence 
of emotions in its real sense, that is to say the 
coincidence of love and hate towards the same 
object, at the root of important cultural forma- 
tions. We know nothing about the origin of 
this ambivalence. It may be assumed to be a 
fundamental phenomenon of our emotional life. 
But the other possibility seems to me also worthy 
of consideration: that ambivalence, originally 
foreign to our emotional life, was acquired bjr 


mankind from the father complex, 94 where psy- 
choanalytic investigation of the individual to-day 
still reveals the strongest expression of it. 85 

Before closing we must take into account that 
the remarkable convergence reached in these il- 
lustrations, pointing to a single inclusive rela- 
tion, ought not to blind us to the uncertainties of 
our assumptions and to the difficulties of our con- 
clusions. Of these difficulties I will point out 
only two which must have forced themselves 
upon many readers. 

In the first place it can hardly have escaped 
any one that we base everything upon the as- 
sumption of a psyche of the mass in which 
psychic processes occur as in the psychic life of 
the individual. Moreover, w r e let the sense of 
guilt for a deed survive for thousands of years, 
remaining effective in generations which could 
not have known anything of this deed. We 

94 That is to say, the parent complex. 

95 I am used to being misunderstood and therefore do not think 
it superfluous to state clearly that in giving these deductions I 
am by no means oblivious of the complex nature of the phenomena 
which give rise to them; the only claim made is that a new factor 
has been added to the already known or still unrecognized origins 
of religion, morality, and society, which was furnished through 
psychoanalytic experience. The synthesis of the whole explana- 
tion must be left to another. But it is in the nature of this new 
contribution that it could play none other than the central rSJe 
in such a synthesis, although it will be necessary to overcome 
great affective resistances before such importance will be con 
ceded to it. 


allow an emotional process such as might have 
arisen among generations of sons that had been 
ill-treated by their fathers, to continue to new 
generations which had escaped such treatment by 
the very removal of the father. These seem in- 
deed to be weighty objections and any other ex- 
planation which can avoid such assumptions 
would seem to merit preference. 

But further consideration shows that we our- 
selves do not have to carry the whole responsi- 
bility for such daring. Without the assumption 
of a mass psyche, or a continuity in the emo- 
tional life of mankind which permits us to dis- 
regard the interruptions of psychic acts through 
the transgression of individuals, social psychol- 
ogy could not exist at all. If psychic processes 
of one generation did not continue in the next, 
if each had to acquire its attitude towards life 
afresh, there would be no progress in this field 
and almost no development. We are now con- 
fronted by two new questions: how much can be 
attributed to this psychic continuity within the 
series of g nerations, and what ways and means 
does a generation use to transfer its psychic 
states to the next generation? I do not claim 
that these problems have been sufficiently ex- 
plained or that direct communication and tradi- 
tion, of which one immediately thinks, are ade- 
quate for the task. Social psychology is in gen- 


eral little concerned with the manner in which 
the required continuity in the psychic life of 
succeeding generations is established. A part 
of the task seems to be performed by the inheri- 
tance of psychic dispositions which, however, 
need certain incentives in the individual life in 
order to become effective. This may be the 
meaning of the poet's words: Strive to possess 
yourself of what you have inherited from your 
ancestors. The problem would appear more 
difficult if we could admit that there are psychic 
impulses which can be so completely suppressed 
that they leave no traces whatsoever behind them. 
But that does not exist. The greatest suppres- 
sion must leave room for distorted substitutions 
and their resulting reactions. But in that case 
we may assume that no generation is capable of 
concealing its more important psychic processes 
from the next. For psychoanalysis has taught 
us that in his unconscious psychic activity every 
person possesses an apparatus which enables him 
to interpret the reactions of others, that is to say, 
to straighten out the distortions which the other 
person has effected in the expression, f of his feel- 
ings. By this method of unconscious under- 
standing of all customs, ceremonies, and laws 
which the original relation to the primal father 
had left behind, later generations may also have 
succeeded in taking over this legacy of feelings. 


There is another objection which the analytic 
method of thought itself might raise. 

We have interpreted the first rules of morality 
and moral restrictions of primitive society as re- 
actions to a deed which gave the authors of it the 
conception of crime. They regretted this deed 
and decided that it should not be repeated and 
that its execution must bring no gain. This cre- 
ative sense of guilt has not become extinct with 
us. We find its asocial effects in neurotics pro- 
ducing new rules of morality and continued 
restrictions, in expiation for misdeeds committed, 
or as precautions against misdeeds to be com- 
mitted. 96 But when we examine these neurotics 
for the deeds which have called forth such reac- 
tions, we are disappointed. We do not find 
deeds, but only impulses and feelings which 
sought evil but which were restrained from car- 
rying it out. Only psychic realities and not 
actual ones are at the basis of the neurotics,' sense 
of guilt. It is characteristic of the neurosis to 
put a psychic reality above an actual one and to 
react as seriously to thoughts as the normal per- 
son reacts only towards realities. 

May it not be true that the case was somewhat 
the same with primitive men? We are justified 
in ascribing to them an extraordinary over-valu- 
ation of their psychic acts as a partial manifesta- 

96 Compare Chapter II. 


tion of their narcistic organization. 97 According 
to this the mere impulses of hostility towards the 
father and the existence of the wish phantasy to 
kill and devour him may have sufficed to bring 
about the moral reaction which has created totem- 
ism and taboo. We should thus escape the ne- 
cessity of tracing back the beginning of our cul- 
tural possession, of which we rightly are so proud, 
to a horrible crime which wounds all our feelings. 
The causal connection, which stretches from that 
beginning to the present time, would not be im- 
paired, for the psychic reality would be of suffi- 
cient importance to account for all these conse- 
quences. It may be agreed that a change has 
really taken place in the form of society from 
the father horde to the brother clan. This is a 
strong argument, but it is not conclusive. The 
change might have been accomplished in a less 
violent manner and still have conditioned the ap- 
pearance of the moral reaction. As long as the 
pressure of the primal father was felt the hostile 
feelings against him were justified and repent- 
ance at these feelings had to wait for another op- 
portunity. Of as little validity is the second ob- 
jection, that everything derived from the ambiva- 
lent relation to the father, namely taboos, and 
rules of sacrifice, is characterized by the highest 
seriousness and by complete reality. The cere- 

»7 See Chapter III. 


inonials and inhibitions of compulsion neurotics 
exhibit this characteristic too and yet they go back 
to a merely psychic reality, to resolution and not 
to execution. We must beware of introducing 
the contempt for what is merely thought or 
wished which characterizes our sober world where 
there are only material values, into the world of 
primitive man and the neurotic, which is full of 
inner riches only. 

We face a decision here which is reallv not 
easy. But let us begin by acknowledging that 
the difference which may seem fundamental to 
others does not, in our judgment, touch the most 
important part of the subject. If wishes and 
impulses have the full value of fact for primitive 
man, it is for us to follow such a conception in- 
telligently instead of correcting it according to 
our standard. But in that case we must scruti- 
nize more closely the prototype of the neurosis 
itself which is responsible for having raised this 
doubt. It is not true that compulsion neurotics, 
who to-day are under the pressure of over-moral- 
ity, defend themselves only against the psychic 
reality of temptations and punish themselves for 
impulses which they have only felt. A piece of 
historic reality is also involved ; in their childhood 
these persons had nothing but evil impulses and 
as far as their childish impotence permitted they 
put them into action. Each of these over-good 


persons had a period of badness in his childhood, 
and a perverse phase as a fore-runner and a 
premise of the later over morality. The anal- 
ogy between primitive men and neurotics is there- 
fore much more fundamentally established if we 
assume that with the former, too, the psychic real- 
ity, concerning whose structure there is no doubt, 
originally coincided with the actual reality, and 
that primitive men really did what according to 
all testimony they intended to do. 

But we must not let our judgment about prim- 
itive men be influenced too far by the analogy 
with neurotics. Differences must also be taken 
into account. Of course the sharp division be- 
tween thinking and doing as we draw it does not 
exist either with savages or with neurotics. But 
the neurotic is above all inhibited in his actions, 
with him the thought is a complete substitute for 
the deed. Primitive man is not inhibited, the 
thought is directly converted into the deed, the 
deed is for him so to speak rather a substitute for 
the thought, and for that reason I think we may 
well assume in the case we are discussing, though 
without vouching for the absolute certainty of 
the decision, that, "In the beginning was the 



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